Monday, 30 November 2009

Nanowrimo Day 30 The finished contest, the unfinished ending

Day 30 ... I made it ... 50,406 words ...

I am going out for a walk and then I might do something to tidy up this ending a bit ... I'm tired and hungry right now:

November 30, 2009
Day 30 ... Last Day

It is Mark

It was soon time to file into the pews set aside for family, time for the service to begin.  Mary Jane came over to me and linked her arm through mine.  "Come sit with us," she said.

"Oh, I couldn't," I said quickly.  "I've only just met you.  I'd feel like an intruder."

Sarah came up and said, "I understand how you feel, but don't disappear on us after the service.  We are awfully glad we've found a long lost cousin."

"Mary Jane added, "It seems almost all of our family members end up being long gone and lost most of the time."

Sarah asked me, "Have you met Andrew yet?"

I shook my head.  "I'm sure I'll meet him soon enough."  I felt a bit like squirming.  I wasn't at all sure I wanted to meet Andrew.  He and Mark could have been brothers — twins even.

The service was one of those non denominational ones.  Joseph's daughter and son spoke of their father with pride and love. He had raised them almost single handed after his wife died.  His sisters both told stories demonstrating that he had been a bit of a devil as a boy and a good big brother.  Andrew didn't speak.  Too shy maybe. 

Mark would have spoken if it had been his brother.  He'd have written poetry that expressed his love for his older brother, poetry that dealt with the universality of love and death and loss ... philosophical and poetic.  Nothing sloppy.  Good poetry.  And Mark was comfortable speaking to large groups of people. 

I wished he were here beside me.  I needed to feel the reassurance of his very warm, totally alive body close to mine.  I'd been too much involved with the dead of late.  The dead and the dying.  The ghosts from my past seemed more real than the people in my life these days.  I had no time for friends because I was writing, no time for much other than eating, sleeping and getting a few minutes of fresh air every day.  And life kept on interfering with the deadline hanging over me.  I decided to leave early and get in touch later, after I'd completed this manuscript.  I'd leave right after the service, tell Mary Jane and Sarah I'd visit another time.

"Oh no you don't," said Eva quietly.  "You are not going to sneak out the back door."

"Why not?  I'm exhausted and I have another five hours of writing to get in before tomorrow."

"Because it would be rude and unkind.  Your cousins want to meet you."

"I've met them ... and we'll exchange cards and I will see them another time."

"Now," said Eva.

"God, it's bad enough that Grandpa thinks he can order me around ... but we're not even related!"

But it was clear that Eva was giving me no choice in the matter.

Why was I so reluctant to stay?  I had another full day to work on the book, and I knew I'd get it finished.  What was making me want to run away?

Andrew's face swam before me ... how could two unrelated men look so much alike?

"Dopplegangers?" It was Grandpa.  "Didn't think there'd be two great marshmallows, did you?"

"Mark is not a marshmallow. He's just a gentle man."

"I'm a gentleman too, but I have a backbone."

I stared at him.  "Do you think he's a coward?"

"Don't you?"

Did I?  Sometimes.  He couldn't do the tough things like end a bad marriage.  But maybe that was because he was too caring, not too cowardly.  He was too easy on one of his daughters.  Was that because he didn't like confrontations or was it because he really did feel she needed extra leeway because she felt like such a loser in her family of brilliant or competent people?

"Maybe he relates to her because he's such a loser himself."

"Oh come on Grandpa.  He's not a loser.  Look at what he's accomplished."

"Does a competent man take so goddamned long to get things done?  My god.  He spends most of his time avoiding what has to be done instead of just doing it."

"I know," I admitted sadly.  "He doesn't seem to cope very well, but he's bright and funny and kind."

"That sounds like my youngest," said Wilhemina. "Have you met him yet?  You'd like him, I know."

"Not yet," I said.

"Have you seen your mother?"  Grandpa asked Wilhemina.

"Is she here?"

"I can't imagine she'd miss a good party.  There is going to be something to drink later, isn't there?"

"She's over there," Eva said.  "In the smoky blue."

I looked over to where Eva was motioning.  Velvet was beautiful.  A halo of blonde hair framed a flawless face.  No wonder her progeny were all so good looking.

"She sure ages well, doesn't she?"  Grandpa was leering.  "Like good whiskey."

"She looks too nice for the likes of you ," I said. 

"She is," said Eva. 

"One of your death bed conversions?" asked Grandpa.

Eva turned suddenly serious. "Velvet came into the home a hard little stripper.  By the time she went into confinement she had grown up.  She was ready to be a good mother ... one who would have raised her daughter well."

"I wish I'd known her," said Wilhemina.  "My foster mother was a good woman and I never felt I had a bad life, but I wish I'd  had a chance to know Velvet."

She turned to Grandpa.  "I wish I'd known you better and longer too.  I wish I'd had a chance to thank you for making sure I was okay."

Grandpa was beginning to look uncomfortable.  He obviously preferred his rakish reputation to one that presented his other side. 

"So you were a bit of a marshmallow too, eh?"

Grandpa scowled at me.  "Nothing of the kind," he said, and walked across the room to Velvet.

"Did I hit a nerve?" I asked Eva.

"Not too many people knew just how kind Paul was"

"Go over and meet Andrew," Wilhemina said to me.

"Will you introduce me?"

"He doesn't always see me," she said.  "Sometimes he's so knotted up inside and living in his own head that he isn't able to see anyone else but himself."

"That doesn't sound very healthy," I said.

"No.  I worry about him.  I wish he were happier.  He's awfully hard on himself."

"He sounds like someone I know," I said.

"Imagine  -- two poor lost souls with every good intention --- and too stuck in their own form of quicksand to grab a helping hand and climb out of the pit."

Yes, I thought, how could there be two of them ... especially two that looked so much alike?

"I think you will like one another.  Come on over and I'll try to get his attention.  He loved Joseph a great deal ... it may be hard just now for him to come out of himself."

It took a long time to make our way across the crowded room.  Little knots of people blocked the route, but finally I was standing just behind Andrew.  He obviously didn't see his mother although she hovered close to him and reached a hand up to touch the back of his collar to straighten it.  He shivered but when he turned around it was me he saw, not Wilhemina.  Good lord, I thought.  I hope he didn't think I'd touched him. I'd never have touched a strange man in that intimate fashion, and certainly not at a funeral.

I wouldn't have touched Mark in that way here in public, especially where he was surrounded by family who likely still thought of him as married despite the fact that he lived alone now.

As soon as he spoke, I realized that Andrew was no stranger.

They say that voices are a more reliable identifier than fingerprints.  And voices tend to be genetically linked.  I've talked to people who are related and mistaken one for the other ... but perhaps that's not genetic but rather the fact that we imitate the voices of the people who raise us.

The stranger spoke my name.  Had Mary Jane and Sarah told him I was here?  Had Wilhemina gotten through to him?

I somehow doubted it.  His next words were, "What in hell are you doing here?"

"It's a long story.  Have you got a month or so?  That's how long it took me to sort it out."

Mark put an arm around me and guided me towards an unoccupied couch.  "Start talking," he said.

"Eva insisted that I come to this funeral.  And Wilhemina too.  If I'd known you would be here I wouldn't have come."

"Wilhemina?" asked Mark.  "How could you possibly know Wilhemina?"

"That's all part of the story," I said.  "Where's your wife?"

"Oh, she didn't come.  I didn't ask her."

"Why not?"

"Too far to travel.  Her job.  You know."

"Did she know Joseph and your sisters?"

Mark nodded, and said, "She didn't like my family much."

"I like Mary Jane and Sarah," I said.

Mark looked a little surprised.  "How do you know them?"

"I don't really.  I just met them today.  But they were friendly."

"Why would they be friendly to you?  They don't know you and you suddenly turn up at our brother's funeral."

Because I'm cute?"

He grinned.

And then we were joined by Sarah who was accompanied by Wilhemina.  "I see you've met," she said.  "I've had the weirdest feeling all afternoon.  As though Mom's here."

"Funerals do that to people," Mark said.  "We remember all the other people who've died."

"Well," I said.  "The people we cared about, anyway."

"Are you coming back to the house?" asked Sarah.

Mark looked at me before responding.  "I have a meeting this evening with one of the Board."

"Can't you tell him you are with family; that your brother died?"

"Yes," I said, "You could take one night off from work.  You could see him tomorrow or phone."

"Where are you staying?" asked Sarah.  "There's plenty of room at Mary Jane's." 

"For both of you," she added.

"I've got a room booked at the Holiday Inn on the Lakeshore Road," I said.  "But thank you."

Mark dithered a bit and finally came out with, "I've told Derek that I'll be staying with them tonight." .I hoped that Sarah would not realize he was lying.

"Who's Derek?" she asked.

"The Board member I have to meet tonight."

"Surely you'll at least come to the house for the reception," Sarah said.

"I'll hang around for a couple of hours, see everyone, and then head over to Derek's.  Will that be okay?"

She nodded.  "Do you need a lift?"

"I rented a car at the airport," he replied, and turned to me.  "Do you have a car here?"

"No," I said.  "Could you give me a lift?"

Mary Jane came up to us and said, "Sorry I didn't get to talk to you sooner.  Are you coming to the house?"

Sarah told her about the arrangements and we all headed toward the door together.

"What's this all about?" Mark said as soon as I slid in.  "Did you know I'd be here?"

"Don't worry," I said.  "I wasn't stalking you.  I was as surprised to see you as you were to see me."

H pulled over and held me for a moment. "I'm glad you're here."

"Why didn't you speak at the funeral?"

"Sometimes it's just too hard to find the right words.  Words that tell someone how much you love them."

"And sometimes you can't tell the world what you weren't able to tell your brother while he was alive?"

"Something like that," Mark said.

"Now tell me.  Why are you here if it wasn't to see me?"

"I'll tell you tonight at the hotel ... it'll be your bedtime story."

"I won't be at the hotel," said Mark.

"Yes you will," I laughed.

And then we were at his sister's  house, and we didn't have a chance to talk again.  I kept hearing people call him Andrew and wondered why he was my Mark and their Andrew.  Their brother, Andrew.  Their Uncle Andrew.

Wilhemina appeared and asked how I liked Andrew.  "He's very nice," I said.

"You should ask him about his work in Africa," she said.  "I'm sure you'd have a lot in common."

I murmured something agreeable and then she was off again, this time to sit with Grandpa and Velvet.  I went over to join them.

And then I felt a warm very human hand on my shoulder, "Do you need a lift to the hotel?" he asked.  He was carrying my coat.  The red suitcase was in the trunk of the rented car.

"I'll be with you in five minutes," I said.  "I want to say goodbye and I need to pee."

I had hardly sat down on the toilet when Eva appeared. 

"For god's sake Eva.  Can't I have even a modicum of privacy?"

"I needed to talk yo you before you got to the hotel."

"To tell me that Mark and Andrew are the same person?"

"That too," she said, "but I didn't want you to do anything stupid."

I thought about what I could possibly do that was any more stupid that falling for a married man who lived a continent away ... a married man who turned out to be my first cousin ... well ... my first half cousin.  Cripes.

"I need to tell him the story," I said.  "The story of the last month."

"Surely he knows the most important parts of it.  You do talk to him, don't you?"

"We don't talk about ghosts ... and I just found out that I am in love with my cousin; that I've committed incestuous acts, for god's sake."

"You didn't commit those acts for God's sake," Eva said without a smile.

"So you were trying to make sure I stopped committing a sin.  Is that it?" I asked.  "Is that why you made sure I came to this damned funeral?"

Eva looked at me in disbelief.  "Is that what you thought?" she cried.  "Have you any idea how many stories about illicit sex I have heard, how many girls I've helped?"

"Did you think you would have become pure for me to forgive you?  For me to understand?"

"We wouldn't be allowed to marry in your church," I said.

"You wouldn't be allowed to marry in a registry office if you revealed your connection, either," she said.  "But why would you?"

"There are good reasons that the law forbids cousins from marrying one another," I said.

"Were you planning to have children with Mark?" asked Eva.  "It's a little late for that kind of thing, don't you think?" 

I emitted a shout of laughter, the same kind of laughter I had shared with Pat and Claire a few days ago.  And then I saw the twinkle in Eva's eye.

"Don't be stupid enough to send Mark away," she said.  "He needs you.  You need each other."

"I don't need a man to make me happy," I said.

"No but you need to love someone who loves you.  You need his friendship and his warmth." 

"And he has a wife."

"Do you see her anywhere around when he needs her?"

"He likely told her she didn't need to come."

"Would you have accepted that?  Did you with Pat?"

"She doesn't love him as much as any of you think she does.  She loves security ... especially financial security."

"He thinks she wants the family to stay intact for the kids."

"The kids are adults, now," said Eva.  "Adults who can see as much of both their parents as they like."

Okay," I said.  "I've got to go.  Could you leave so I can finish up in here?"

Eva looked at me long and hard.  "Don't be a fool.  This is your last chance.  Life doesn't go on forever."

I stared at her and then said, "You'd never know it to look at you and Grandpa flirting away eternity."

Her giggles echoed in the glistening bathroom after she'd gone.


Anonymous said...

So why did he lie to you about his name?

Oma said...

That, I am afraid, is a question I will have to answer in the rewrite. The lame answer is that I called him Andrew and Mark at the beginning ... and forgot what I called him because I was writing too fast to re-read. The really lame answer is that I had to hide the fact that he was the narrator's cousin. But the really truthful answer is that I don't know. Maybe he lied because he was married or maybe he had two names and wanted to think of himself as Mark when he was with me ... stronger, bolder than Andrew. But of course the name does not make the man ... he was still an indecisive and gentle man ... even with a one syllable name!

Do you have any other possible answers?

Anonymous said...

I read it as he lied because he's making sure he is untraceable. He can't really be known at all. He is as much a phantom as the ghosts. Who he really is is anyone's guess. Your protagonist is relying on ghosts, really figments of her imagination, for details on his relationship with his family which it turns out is her family too.

The lie about his name comes across as the final nail in the coffin on him, but then a ghost fills in all the missing information to make everything all right, but only in her mind. As she says, she needs to love someone who loves her. She's turn a blind eye to everything else in the face of that.

It really doesn't matter at all who he is, or what his name is. He fills the same need for love and family that the imagined ghosts do.

Oma said...

Great analysis ... I love it!