I think Wednesdays are the perfect day for idle speculation. A little fantasy. A look back at what I’ve done. A peek forward to what I’ll be doing. Here’s my favorite snippet from Vigil, book two in The Hours Trilogy, a little big of Adin’s past:
“I never could understand why these numbskulls swim here at this time of day,” Adin’s father said as he set up the tripod. “Think we’ll get lucky?”
“This fog should burn off.” Adin had been more interested in the coffee his father bought him, even though he’d filled it with cream and sugar so he could drink it without making faces, than the photography part of the outing. “What is it with you and that boat? We’ve been here every weekend this summer and you still don’t have the picture you want.”
“Mind your manners Adin. The lady is a ship.” Keene Tredeger teased. “I freely admit I’m obsessed by it.”
The Tredegers, father and son, peered through the fog at the Balclutha, the three-masted, full-rigged beauty that was part of the Maritime Museum’s collection. If the moisture burned off enough, his father would try to get a picture of her, caressed just so by the early morning sunlight. As if the sun would ever shine over San Francisco Bay in the morning. He said he knew what that picture would look like when he got it and until that day, their Saturday mornings would be spent in the aquatic park trying. Adin went with him, mostly for the coffee.
Adin shivered from what seemed like glacially cold, damp air that lay on them like a blanket. San Francisco was like London, only without the charm of age and the patina of empire to hold his interest and get him past it.
“I do not know what you see in this place.”
“That’s because you’re a snob, Adin.” Keene’s voice was amused. The elder Tredeger practically threw Adin a treat whenever he exhibited his disdain for the commonplace, so naturally, he’d grown to be a quirky little thing. “Your mother loves it here. I’ve never seen her so happy. It makes me a spectacular hero in her eyes to have brought her home to stay. Your sister loves her new school, you are doing well, given that you’re unhappy to be here, and I have the Balclutha, 301 feet, 2,650 tons of emotional satisfaction. I have never loved anything non-human this way. It’s positively obscene. I’m assuming it’s a midlife crisis and someday soon we’ll grow apart.”
Adin said nothing.
“You do like your school don’t you?” When Adin grimaced, his father’s eyes twinkled. “Middle school has to be one of Dante’s levels of hell. Level 8, I think, the Malebolgia. But you seem to have achieved a singular level of mediocrity in your first quarter grades. Perfectly suitable for a boy in the pit of despair.”
“Actually, middle school is more like Delacroix’s painting The Barque of Dante, a horrible boat, ferrying you between elementary and high school,” Adin muttered. “Complete with shit that tries to drown you, and the floating bloated corpses of those who have gone before.”
Keene frowned. “Adin.”
“It’s not that it’s not a good school.” Adin muttered. “I get okay grades, people are nice.”
“But you don’t fit in?”
Adin closed his eyes and shook his head. “Not really.”
“You miss Edward?” Keene asked. “You two were thick in London. It’s hard to leave your best mate when you move.”
“I know. We e-mail. We wouldn’t have gone to the same school anyway, he would have been sent to prep school and I…”
“You are an American boy whose mother wants him by her side until he’s ninety.”
Adin bit his lip and rolled his eyes. “I get that, yes.”
“I needed to bring her home, Adin. It was my responsibility. She was afraid.”
“The world is changing.” Keene took a sip of his own coffee. “Sometimes I think it gets smaller and angrier every day. Can you imagine the nineteenth century when that ship was built? You’re a young man, barely fourteen—your age—and you step aboard the Balclutha with nothing more than a canvas sack with a change of clothes, a pocket knife, maybe a tin whistle. Everything you know about where you’re headed comes from the images you hold in your imagination and what you can see off her bow: the horizon, in all directions, limitless space, endless possibility, and the great unknown.”
“Mother says you grow more and more like a PBS documentary every day.”
“I know that. I believe I mentioned I’m obsessed.” He looked back and saw the shroud of fog still clung to the object of his desire.
Adin laughed when two of his father’s students—attractive college girls—jogged by in short shorts, giggling.
“Hello Dr. Tredeger.”
It was as if they simpered in unison. Keene waved. Adin watched his father’s face. It seemed safe to say he had no concept of their attraction to him. Even at thirteen Adin knew when he saw the spark of sexual interest in someone’s eyes. He’d learned a lot from the far worldlier Edward, whose passion for the Romantic Movement in art was positively exacerbated by his quicksilver moods and an early and fateful reading of the poetry of Walt Whitman.
Edward, in whose eyes he saw his own longings clearly and proudly displayed; Edward, who seemed to be an advance scout, a forayer into the hostile territory of adulthood, bringing back information and providing a source of comfort for Adin, who seemed destined to advance at a slower pace.
Edward had already informed his family of what he knew to be his truth, and even though Adin was well aware he’d have to make the same declarations someday, he worried that his wouldn’t be met with the same sangfroid Edward’s parents and grandmother—who had known before he did—had displayed.
In one of those remarkably perceptive moments that Adin never expected from his otherwise oblivious father, Keene asked him, “Is there anything you think I should know?”
Adin’s eyes rose to meet his father’s. He hid behind his coffee cup and let the steam from the still hot brew rise between them.
“Did you see those girls run by?” Keene murmured.
Adin grinned. “You know they have a crush on you. They probably don’t even jog as far as Pier 39.”
“I know.” Keene admitted. “But it pays to play the absent-minded professor in these instances. Do you know what? I am a far more keen—no pun intended—observer of human nature than you think. And I think I know when a person is engaged romantically. Although you will never, ever see me look that way at anyone but your mother.”
Adin felt uncomfortable with the subject and burned under his father’s close scrutiny.
“My brother,” his father went on, “died in the early days of the AIDS crisis, right here in this city. He was attending a funeral every week and then finally, had one of his own.”
Adin’s heart hammered in his chest as his father let out a lengthy sigh.
“I’ve never told anyone that. Normally when we talked about his illness, or his death after the fact, my family talked about the diseases that were incidental to his diagnosis of Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome. The cancer, the toxoplasmosis, the PML, the pneumonia. The reason for his illness became a deep, dark family secret because it was my parents’ wish that no one know he was gay or that he was ill with what was then still referred to by the ignorant as the ‘homosexual disease’. So we hid it.”
Adin could see the regret on his father’s face. He swallowed hard. “Why are you telling me this?”
“For two reasons, Adin.” Keene looked him directly in the eye. “First, and most important. I loved my brother so much. He was such a wonderful man. Full of life and love, even at the end. A vibrant, beautiful soul. You were barely preschool age when he died, and we hadn’t been in the country except to visit briefly, for years. That makes me tremendously sad. He would have adored you. You’re very much alike.”
Adin remained silent, his eyes on the rippling water of the bay. The fog was burning off, barely obscuring the horizon. In only moments the Balclutha would be visible, maybe even perfectly lit by the sun that was beginning to peek through the clouds.
“Second, I want to tell you how terribly disappointed I was in the way my parents handled my brother’s death, as if by shrouding his final year in mystery they were preserving his dignity, when in fact, they were robbing him of it with their failure to celebrate his life. Whatever happened, whatever choices he made, even though tragedy struck, I still celebrate his life. I wish my parents had. I would have.”
“Dad.” Adin, filled with a kind of rising panic, ducked behind the camera and looked through the viewfinder.
“I feel sure that I would love my children no matter what. No matter what, Adin.”
“Dad, pay attention.” Adin watched the Balclutha through the camera lens with blurry eyes, even as the mist began to move until the masts were exposed, and in only moments, it went from nearly invisible to patchily outlined, to visible, and kissed by the sun. Adin snapped several pictures in a row, ignoring the weighty feel of his father’s eyes on him. Finally he stopped. “I think I got what we came for.”
“Me too, son.” His father wrapped an arm around him.
Moments later, in the way of dreams, Adin was transported to San Francisco Bay on another day, only ten years later, when it became necessary to hire a small fishing boat to take him and Deana out past the bridge and into the ocean to lay his parents’ to rest in that same glistening water. Deana held his left hand, squeezing hard as Adin allowed a handful of ashes to sift through the fingers of his right…
Adin’s hand hurt. It seemed Deana was crushing it as she clutched it harder than he’d ever felt her hold it before…
Adin swallowed around the stinging in his throat as he opened his eyes. His chest felt all heavy inside, as if suddenly it were filled with wet sand, and dragging enough air into it to breathe was painful. When he could focus he saw Bran sitting next to him on the bed, squeezing his hand.
“Adin.” Bran leaned over, crawling toward him. Tears fell freely down his cheeks, and Adin discovered that they were the perfect antidote for his own. He itched to wipe them away from Bran’s face but didn’t do it. Bran ignored his restraint and clumsily threw his arms around Adin. “I’m so sorry.”
Adin pushed at him. “Bran—”
“Your family loved you so much. Your father and mother were wonderful and then you lost them, just like I lost mine…”
“Bran, get off me.”
If anything the boy squeezed him tighter. “I’m so sorry Adin. I didn’t know. I wouldn’t have gone looking around if I’d known it was going to be so awful to watch…”
“Bran, I said, let go.”
Adin heard the door close with a bang, and the atmosphere in the room changed dramatically. The whispering voice sounds that let Adin know when Donte was near buzzed angrily in Adin’s head. The noise vibrated, emanating from Donte’s whole body and outward into the room like a warning. Adin had only a second to think before Bran was growling as well. Bran responded with an unnaturally feral and uncanny sound, like the roar of a tiger, and he leaped off the bed, crouching by the side of it as if getting ready to defend it.
“Stop.” Neither of them paid Adin any attention.
“Step away from my human.” Donte’s voice rolled into the room like pyroclastic flow.
Vigil is available at MLR Press, Here.