Monday, 27 July 2009

BINARY CODE Chapter 17- A New Direction

We were back at the Winter House. We had spent the rest of the afternoon in the courthouse at Gloucester, looking through the county tax rolls from around the turn of the century to see if there was a Malcolm Riley who might have been a doctor at the Memorial Hospital. My first idea, to look through the hospital's staff records, had not panned out. The spanking new building was designed for the future, not as an archive of the past. Our search found no doctors named Malcolm, no Rileys, no-one who could possibly be examining physician for a body brought ashore on an autumn morning in 1916. A theory, still partially formed and as yet too fluid to take shape, was beginning to seep through the sluices of my brain. It looked as though it would be impossible to come up with anything concrete about an event which happened so long ago. We were in the kitchen of the old house, trying to figure out how to turn the heat on. Tess was on her knees with her head pressed to the floor, her rump in the air, trying to see if the pilot light at the bottom of the old boiler was lit. I know that she would not have been flattered to know, but my particular vantage point provoked a sudden and overwhelming desire, lighting a spark inside me which had been snuffed out since the accident. I went into the pantry and found a box of long matches. Kneeling down beside her, I tilted my head to look through the small hole at the bottom of the cylinder. I was conscious of the scent of her hair and the dust of the floor and the sweet acrid smell of the gas which seeped out when I turned the stopcock. "Press here and hold it," I said, indicating a small button which would release the gas in a steady enough stream to ignite it. She reached over to the button and our hands brushed. Like a teenager on a first date to the movies, I was acutely conscious of this touch, as if for a moment the rest of my body did not exist. The moment passed and the pilot light flickered on. Our task complete, we decided to go into Matthews to eat while the damp and musty house heated up. We sat in Mathews' only restaurant, eating crab cakes and sipping cold beer. "You want to know what I think?" I suddenly asked. Tess was looking at me but her eyes were not focused on mine and her chin was propped up on her elbow, giving her a dreamy look. She didn't answer immediately. I felt a little bit self conscious. "What?" I said. "I was just thinking how this was fun, regardless of what happens. It as though suddenly there is a signpost where before there was none. I mean, it's somewhere to go and something to do." "Right." What else could I say? "Anyway. Do you want to know what I think happened?" I continued. Tess was trying to resist coming out of her reverie. Reluctantly, it seemed, she said: "Okay, tell me your theory." "First off, I think MacEnzie killed your great grandfather. I think he killed him and it has something to do with that agreement we found, maybe because he realised he was beholden to Helmut and he couldn't take it. I think he set the whole thing up. He invited Henry Ford along to give it some legitimacy, and I think he was in cahoots with his doctor friend." "How can you possibly think all that from what we know? Mary didn't say anything like that. Not even close." "Do you ever feel like you know something is going to happen before it happens? Do you ever feel like you are plugged into something involuntarily, like someone is leading you and you only half realise it?" Tess was looking at me with a look that was somewhere between bewilderment and wonder. "You are so...enthusiastic about this, Evan. Why?" "You know, Tess, I feel like somehow this is a part of my life...I mean everything. You, Stokely, your family, Valhalla, your great grandfather...Lydia....everything. It's just meant to be. I know it sounds weird. It just seems as though I have been led down a path and I have to follow it to the end. It just feels right." I knew that the mention of Lydia's name was the main ingredient that Tess tasted in what I had just told her. I could tell she was debating over whether or not to say something. "Why Lydia?" she asked, speaking softly to temper what could have seemed a harsh question. Lydia suddenly had come out of the shadow into the light, forcing us both to confront her. I took a deep breath. "This is where I met her. This is where I buried her. There will never be any way of forgetting that or her. But as time goes on I have come to realise that...she is part of my life. A very important part, but a part. A part that is gone now and can never come back." I paused and exhaled sharply. Tess looked distraught. "I'm sorry, Evan.....I didn't mean to..." "Force me into saying something? No....I'm glad you did. Say something I mean. And it's the truth, isn't it?" She wasn't going to say anything, even if she agreed. She only nodded. "Anyway, I agree with you," I said. "This...hunt has given us a signpost to follow." I know that the subtlest things carry the most weight in life. It is not the blatant statement but the casual glance, the turn of the head, the averted eyes, the brief rush of colour to the cheeks which are the most telling and powerful signs. Unplanned words that emerge from the undergrowth of sentences can grow over time into the tall trees of truth. The second I said us I realised it was different. There was no need to say anything else. "I think we should talk to Mary again," I said. "Otherwise any theory I have will remain just that...a theory. I need to know if she remembers anything that was said between your great grandfather and MacEnzie." Tess looked skeptical. "I don't know. She was a little less than enthusiastic. Especially there at the end." "Maybe we could use Jake as an excuse...and bring them something. A gift. To thank her." I knew that for Tess our investigation had taken a backseat to something else. I think she realised that perhaps the more we delved into what was now a lark could turn into something more serious, something which would quickly spread beyond the two of us. She was in no hurry to sacrifice our fledgling relationship for some unspecified benefit for her family. However, there was no stopping an adventure which now had gathered a momentum of its own. "Okay. Tomorrow," she said reluctantly. "Can we go home now?" She said this in a nervous sort of way, a breathless strained little girl voice that was at odds with the rest of her, as if it was a relief finally to be arriving at a destination. We had made a show of choosing separate bedrooms on arriving at the Winter House earlier, hers down at the end of the hall with its own bathroom, mine at the top of the stairs. It was not late, but not too early that we could not both say goodnight and go upstairs to brush our teeth and wash. Years of experience with Lydia taught me that time increased exponentially with women, yet despite trying to pace myself, I found myself in my room, walking back and forth like an expectant father, sitting on the bed, getting up and then down again, wondering what I would do or say and listening hopefully for footsteps coming down the hall. Our attempt to heat the house had not really worked. It was still chilly, and I cursed myself for leaving my rarely used bathrobe in Washington. Finally, in an act of desperation I got under the covers and turned out the light, still wondering what I would do. Suddenly her silhouette was in the doorway. She only said one word: "Evan." Everything was a blur of contradictions: the silence deafening, the darkness bright, the bitter sweet, her cold skin hot as a fire that burns only once a lifetime, the hardness of our bodies mixed with the soft. It was not premeditated and yet not spontaneous, the end of a lifetime's rehearsal for an impromptu hour on the stage. The fear was comforting, the confusion so clear. We said nothing, and explored each other like two blind people grasping for an answer in the darkness, touching and tasting, caressing and probing and lunging and holding and suddenly finding our answer in an explosion of light at the end of a long tunnel. In the calm of the afterwards I held her and kissed her and through the confusing kaleidoscope of thoughts and images and memories--both painful and joyous-- which had led us through the years to that moment, I whispered in her ear: "If we let it, life will never cease to amaze us."

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