Peas in a Pod: part five
Peas in a Pod
Even to use her name in this way was absurd; he had never laid eyes on Mrs. Breeling. The troupe’s second cast gave the matinées. Yet…what if he’d said to Lawrence, or to Fish, she did me this kindness, paid for my ticket, saw something in me, picked me out from the crowd…
What became, then, of his secret?
He stepped into the street, and began to cross Broadway. Richard felt as though he’d fallen to the bottom of a well…a place where, so he’d once read, stars could be seen by daylight. His view was opaque, and he could not pull himself up again.
The butt of a whip came across his chest and a gloved hand held him back. This time his benefactor was the driver of a gig, who’d spared Richard’s stumbling into a slough of muddy water that pooled in the gutter.
“Look ahead of yourself, son. Watch where you set your feet.”
Meaning to thank him, Richard said, “I’m sorry.”
He held his thoughts in check, darted up the alley behind a row of storefronts, found Oak street, where in secret he’d bought whisky at the drugstore. Here he broke into a run. Rather than seek the river, Richard leapt the low wall of a church yard, and laid himself under the shadow of a juniper bush, in the lee of a headstone.
The story made no difference. If Richard liked to imagine a thing, the sweetness was his alone; but if he told others, he saw how this fruit would wither on the vine. It was the could-be-so that gave to dreams a sort of magic. His mother understood this. No…his mother lived in a world of little else. But fix time and place before the witness of others, and ever afterwards, you would be servant to the lie.
He had seen Lawrence and Fish close ranks against him. He lay flat on the grass, and dug each fingernail into earth. Fish was unlikely to have seen “The Penitent Soldier”―but Schumacher and Giesling probably went to plays. Richard had watched Fish, when he told an untruth on purpose, and had seen his consciousness that he did so undisguised from himself. Fish lied, and accused others of lying…about money, about drink; Fish assumed those he met to be thieves and drunks. Fish lied like a child, or like any powerless man, without the bold eye of mendacity, or the hope of success.
But the coincidence was too strong. Fish, against his will, made party to robbery and murder. Fish, arrested for gunning a man down in the fog. Fish, losing his sweetheart to the preacher who’d carried to her his letter. In the play, the soldier, condemned for a murder done by another, had hanged for it. The preacher, in marrying Miss Eliza, had done no wrong (albeit, some in the audience made rude noises during his lengthy proposal). The play’s preacher had even spoken the line: “The door is unlocked.” He had probably used the word “avail”. Richard thought he had.
Peas in a Pod
(copyright 2017 Stephanie Foster)