Discretion and Beastliness
I woke up in branches of silk,
steadied my walk, buttoned the robe.
I sharpened my teeth and claws,
pinned the tie to the shirt,
hunted my food with a growl
and not a question.
My deference is the instinct to charge
against the mortal sin of blindness.
I kneel and pray to a god that I see.
When time comes to kill,
I offer my hand.
I sit politely in a barbaric room,
so that I am seen.
When breakfast wasn’t ready for me, I made it. Those kind of exceptions were like an easy equation for a maths graduate.
Still, I called for Ellen while I poured the water into the kettle, but my voice got lost in the half-light of the empty house. The morning had started in such a rush for a run in a pair of tights that no one had managed to tell me they were leaving early. I wanted her to see me all dressed up before anyone else. And I could never remember where she put those delicious cookies she made with that traditional recipe I told her about, but it didn’t matter because by that point the clock on top of the fireplace had reminded me that it was 10:30. So the kettle remained unused on the kitchen counter and I stopped by the mirror next the front door to make sure everything was in order. I liked looking sharp. More than sharp, I liked looking powerful. Decent, in my vocabulary. Tie tidily tuck inside the gilet, charcoal grey jacket and trimmed moustache made sure that everyone noticed I had put in the work.
I had stepped out and closed the door behind me when the phone rang in the pocket of my tailored coat.
“Yes, Ellen?” I said, reading her name on the screen.
“Honey, could you stop by Laura’s house? She’s asked me to get her present for Jimmy. Alex is there, she’ll give it to you.” She told me, fast and focused, just like she was. Going to Laura’s had always been an obligation, never a pleasure. I just couldn’t get along with her and something about her daughter Alex kept bothering me. It’s not that I didn’t like her, but I didn’t approve of her. She had always some kind of excuse for not having her life together or not being were she was supposed to be, like today. Besides, I could feel I wasn’t her favorite uncle. I was never anybody’s favorite uncle.
“And please hurry, everybody’s almost here.” She said quickly before hanging up. She had such a strong sense of duty I had always found so charming, it was what made me unable to say no to her. So I just drove to Laura’s.
When I got there the blinds were all shut, which was absurd in broad daylight. I rang the bell but no-one answered. I tried again, insisting, hoping some of my frustration would slip through. I didn’t have time to be standing outside a shut door, waiting because of who knows what, but the house looked completely empty. Maybe Ellen had the wrong information so I decided to call Laura. The phone rang twice before she answered, two times more than I was willing to put up with.
“Is your daughter home?” I asked when she answered, without giving her time to talk, but my accent had slipped up because of my impatience. I hated when that happened.
“What?” She replied, wasting my time.
“Is Alex home? You told Ellen she would have…”
“Yes, yes, of course she’s home. Why?”
“I’m here, but no-one’s answering. It’s late.”
“She’s there. Try her bedroom window.” Her calmness was utterly insulting.
“All right, fine.” I said and I hung up. Her bedroom was on the ground floor and right next to the front door. I started hitting on the blind with my fist and calling her name. Maybe she had that nasty habit of putting her earphones on to the maximum volume. She was in for a scold. But I had to get in first. I couldn’t believe the time I was waisting, peaking from the blind like a thief. I had started screaming her name by now and some of the neighbours had come out on their balconies. I wasn’t going to be made a spectacle by a silly adolescent and the indecency of the position she was putting me in. I had taken my phone out again to lash out at Laura when Matthew’s car pulled through the driveway. His presence felt like a divine reward in that moment.
“Do you have the keys? Alex’s not answering.” I yelled from a distance, hoping he’d catch on my hurry.
“Sure.” He said, looking for the keys in his pocket. I was nervously skipping as he fiddled with the lock.
When the door opened the house was silent and the lights were off. Matthew called for his sister but there was no answer. Maybe she was out. He went for her bedroom’s door, but it was locked. His phone rang right there and he stepped away to answer, giving me nothing but an imperceptible nod. Another locked door in front of me was too much to take, so I just took a key from another one, hoping it would work. As I was trying, the sudden thought of all the horrifying possibilities that could have justified her not answering hit me and I felt my stomach clench when I realised how long it took me to get there. Whatever I would have found, it shouldn’t have been me.
She was sitting on the floor. She had no earphones on. I had forgotten she had a thing, some sort of mental situation which didn’t seem serious when her mother told me about it. She wasn’t going out much and sometimes she had these crisis that made her scream or twitch, I wasn’t sure. I managed never to be in the room when it happened. I had even offered help sometime ago, asking if she wanted to come and spend a few days at my house, but as I said, I wasn’t her favorite uncle. She was crying, her head in her hands, her forehead on her knees. Her hair was a tangled mess, it didn’t look clean.
“Alex?” I said, trying to hide my impatience and my discomfort. All she could do was saying “no”, over and over. No, no, no. It was like having to deal with a child, which I wasn’t good at, and I hadn’t been with my own either when they were infants. I bent my knees like her cat did when she saw something threatening and slowly started walking towards her, still calling her name with the lowest voice I could master. I hated that she wasn’t even looking up, that she had no interest to, as if she had been blind. That was all she had to do, just look up, and this whole mess would have been finally over.
“No!” She kept mumbling, making it clear she had no intentions of moving or answering or stopping that damn lament, so I just did what you do with a baby that won’t stop crying. I picked her up. A 17 year old. The situation was inappropriate at best. I just led her to the bed and put her down.
“Just rest ok? I’ll ask your brother for the present.” I said, and before I realised it, I had offered her my hand, to say goodbye, to let her hold it, I don’t know. I kept it a few inches from her nose and she opened her eyes to look at it, just for a second. She was letting me see her desperation, but that didn’t upset me nearly has much as the anger I thought I saw in her look, an anger that resembled some sort of blame, an accusation. Then, as if that had been some sort of privilege she had granted me, she rolled her head on the other side of the pillow. I stood there unsure and uneasy, like a animal learning to walk, with an urge to talk to her coming from deep within my pelvis. I knew right there that I would have to go through the hassle of forgetting, which felt like an uninvited dinner guest wearing a tracksuit. Without turning my eyes away from her, I shook my head and left, incredulous at the way I had let her throw me off centre. Her brother was on the doorstep, still on the phone. I gestured for the present and he pointed it out to me, so I picked it up and rushed to my car, just as he was approaching her sister’s bedroom door, which I had closed without realising.
The drive to the restaurant was quick. I was too busy trying to concentrate on the cowardly sin she was committing with her life choices. Her stubborn refusal to look up was an ambiguously written map of the roads she was walking inside herself, tangled to the point that the world around her had no reason to exist. To think that just a few years ago, she was the one I would have bet on to become an efficient human being, a decent human being. Yet there she was, insulting the education I had worked so hard to give my children. Ellen would have been hurt by that situation. She had a warm heart, such goodness, but such morality. Alex’s crying would have saddened her, but her contempt for decency would have actually hurt her. Which is why I knew, when I saw her waiting for me outside the restaurant, that I wouldn’t have told her how Alex’s trap had almost fooled me. I could never have caused such distress to a woman so beautiful and so out of this wretched world. Out of this town and this family for sure. I got out of the car and walked towards her, feeling the smile under my moustache finally coming back. I reached for her waist and lightly kissed her on the cheek.
“You’re late, what took you so long?” She asked, slightly irritated.
“You wouldn’t believe it.” I replied, trying to dismiss what happened like when breakfast wasn’t ready, like an easy equation for a maths graduate. I put my hand on her back to let her in before me, just as my sister came trotting towards me. I knew what I was in for and my chest tightened a little, so I tried to run away by ignoring her and joining the lunch party. My sister was the kind of woman to let go, but not when it was about that daughter of hers.
“Did you just leave your niece alone on her bed crying?” She asked, raising her voice, like she usually did.
“Matthew was with her.” I said, whispering with all the strength I could master, leaning in towards her face, trying to threaten her to leave it alone.
“He’s a kid!” she was deliberately screaming now, trying to get attention. Get attention. Like a popstar undressing or an actor causing a scandal. That, of course, belittled the fact that it was indeed true, Matthew was nothing but a kid, but I couldn’t wrap my head around the fact that my life experience, my most priced possession, put me in a position that was in no way superior to his.
“He’s old enough for that.” I replied, calmly, walking towards my sit at the end of the table.
“You can’t possibly believe that.” She said, putting her hands on her hips, posing for photographers. Ellen looked terribly embarrassed, I had to put an end to this show of hers. I sat politely, saying nothing. I unbuttoned my jacket, approached my glass and poured some red whine, as the rest of the room chattered away, raising their voices, wandering around and ultimately, throwing a glance my way. Thanks to the fact that Laura’s scenes were a common occurrence, nobody was actually paying attention.
“Let’s celebrate my son’s graduation now. There’s a right time for things. You should tell Alex that.” I said, and invited Ellen to sit next to me. The rest of the party quickly followed, as Laura left to return home, a gesture I honestly appreciated. And I could have called later to make sure everything was ok. After all, compassion is a matter of decency just as discretion is a matter of duty. Those are the shoes one should wear out there in the world. Those and a perfectly tailored jacket.