Are You Alienated: part six
“I don’t want to say the wrong thing…” Minta was cautious. Emmett, having checked his emotion earlier, had spoken this time with real anger.
“…but I don’t understand. I mean, it’s awful, but what makes it a joke?” She let her voice trail into meekness. She found Torbay unlikeable, as Emmett characterized him, and could imagine he had behaved offensively—
“You haven’t understood my Waterloo Bridge reference.”
She did understand, now he’d recalled it to her.
“But then,” Minta said, “people sometimes do…I mean…obsess over…” And seeing error in the direction she was heading, gave up. She was about to say goodbye to Emmett. She would hate to leave him with a stupid, insensitive comment.
“People,” Emmett said, “driven to the extremity of despair, sometimes do, nonetheless, take the trouble to plan a grand gesture, an homage, one might call it…” He shrugged. “They do, occasionally. And no doubt, a bridge is convenient. There seems always to be one nearby. But I don’t believe it. Intuitively, I don’t believe it. You may be right to call me obsessed, however.”
“Oh, now, I never did. But…what do you really need to know, John? I think,” Minta said, testing this, “you’ve had an unhappy life, and you’re looking for something that explains it.”
“The secret diary? True, my father cracked under pressure of family responsibility. His career in treason had gone along serenely enough, until the late ‘70s. It was this groping after conventionality that inspired him to inflict unnecessary harm. I can say to you, Minta, without undue self-depreciation, there is no reason I ought to be here.” He gave her a steadying look. “I don’t find it out of the question that he might have left behind personal papers. Discovering them―if they exist―may not give me peace of mind. Mrs. Castelberry…”
He touched his cap, having surprised her with this address, and took a step towards the street, a leave-taking preliminary.
And, if he were not coming in, he must have some errand that remained. She wanted to say, “I’ll come with you.”
“…I’ve chosen badly. Miss Graham did not in the least understand me.”
“Miss… Oh, Cammie?”
“I am not paranoid,” he told her, “but I am aware of being watched. You will realize it can’t be otherwise. The British government would have been happy to intercept my father, had he ever attempted to re-enter England. He might have tried to contact me. I was…in a manner of speaking…his closest relative.”
“But he never did.”
“I don’t believe so, no. I have always thought, however, that it would be wise to have a friend. I’m not very good at making friends, I’m afraid. I had a poor start in life.”
“If you need someone…”
She raised her voice. He had taken another step away from her. “Someone to help you in your work. That way, with a friend…to pick up the slack…you might have an easier time—”
“I’m done with it, actually. I have paid my last visit to St. Petersburg. But, Minta, I’ve added myself to your contact list. You may call me if you like.”
Minta stared at Quentin’s tuft of a pony-tail. It caught against his shirt collar, tucking itself in, wagging loose, while he hunched over his table. He had called her to his study; he was now keeping her waiting. She knew the routine.
“I’m having a bagel. Do you want one?”
She’d just said it, and Quentin’s move was to dither over the question of deviled ham or peanut butter. Because she wouldn’t stoop to playing it, she was hostage to this game. She still fixed him snacks, picked up his sneakers, let him choose their TV shows.
“You decide,” he told her, after a long minute of drumming a rhythm with his pen; making a sucking noise in his cheek.
She was in the kitchen, spreading peanut butter, when he called out.
Are You Alienated
(copyright 2015 Stephanie Foster)