Art Newcomb is the central figure. In the end. He is either pathetic or selfish. Or ruthless. I knew that he was in the darkened room, though the story will lean toward unclear dialogue and circumstance. Was it Arthur’s embrace, or my own? Did Elizabeth follow Arthur Newcomb to Europe? Did she lose him there? Or did he lose her, retracing steps through several other stories? Locating her, catching up late in life, as she headed west. To Kathryn. How many times did Arthur Newcomb and I leave the best hope behind, birthing regret and abortive attempts to re-capture? Can I revisit or re-create the entire span of his life? Is he the reflection? Can he reinvent love? Is it too late? When two lines in a distant obituary signal a life’s end? And whose life?
Please, no forlorn, self-absorbed memoir; rather a dying man on a raft, the audience on the riverbank, piecing together the dubious hero’s dilemma. His loss; his love. Kathryn and Elizabeth, fictional objects of fancy and long-lost desire. It’s Arthur’s turn, if I can learn to love him. The scene, again. It is Arthur’s one last chance. And mine:
Kathryn was quiet. She had seemed unusually tired all week. Said she might be coming down with something. But she continued to clear off the table, make coffee, feed and encourage us. But quietly. She shook out the woven placemats, crumbs in the wastebasket. I sensed she was holding thoughts back. Maybe a cold? Perhaps. An excuse, if she needed one.
Kathryn spoke, her back to us. Or she began to speak. As if. To no one. Or to all of us. Billy or Newcomb or Hollister. Or just Elizabeth. Or to me. I was still trying to craft Kathryn’s mind, its whereabouts. Kathryn. The woman. The source. Kathryn. My anchor, and refuge, the gentle warmth and open arms. Solid welcome. Without complaint or criticism. I needed her, but suddenly she was tired. Or just certain. Afraid I might not understand. Or listen.
Kathryn placed her hands on the edge of the sink and stared into the gray water, fingers tight on the porcelain and tile. She began, then stopped, shaking her head. Soap and spoons and forks. Orchestration of cleanliness and pleasant freshness from the smudges and flecks and smears of another meal. Easy to fix. Stainless steel. She breathed in a sob, and the past welled up in me. The years. The memories. Friends. Dreams. The past. She spoke. Clearly. Squeezing each word.
“You remember. Every bit of it. Don’t you?” We looked up from our thoughts. Then at each other. Kathryn was speaking to the dish pan. Or to the cabinets. Or the ceiling. “You recall every bit. Your story. Each day, fleeting thoughts woven fifty or sixty years ago. How things might have happened. Or did happen.” She shifted her weight from one foot to the other. “Your story.”
Elizabeth cleared her throat. A piece of a word escaped.
“No, Elizabeth,” Kathryn said, and turned, looking at me this time. Anger? Fear? “Your story. Your book.” She stepped away from the sink. Eyes glistening wet. Swollen lids. “Your story. It’s ninety-nine point nine percent true, but you wanted the one tiny piece which you lost. And then another. And too many more. Fiction. Because they didn’t happen. Things about which you know nothing.” She stared at me. “You can’t find it in the past. The shadows. Or this woman. Or that. The joy you might have had.” She shook her head and closed her eyes. “For a moment, or forever, if you could have caught her! Or kept her.” I had never seen Kathryn’s tears. Never. No tears. Ever.
“But it was all that I knew. What I remembered,” I said. “I enlisted Elizabeth.” I felt my own tears. “And you. I was trying to make sense. I wanted to know.” I closed my eyes. “I wanted to know. Who I was. In the end.”