Read Isis Online

Authors: Douglas Clegg

Isis (6 page)

A trapeze act.
He gasped and groaned and shouted a quick curse as if something had caused him to fumble, and his hands slipped.
I reached up again. I wasn’t afraid at all, for Harvey was not only half of the Great Villiers Brother-and-Sister Trapeze Act, but he would not fail.
He was a golden boy in a world of brass and tin.
I would learn later that Harvey had leaned so far out the window to draw me upward that he lost his balance and his knee gave out and he tripped over the window ledge.
All I knew, as I opened my eyes in that second, was that he had somehow managed to grab me in an embrace—and we were falling—and it was so fast that it was not like falling to the ground at all, but like sliding along a floor toward a stone wall.
Harvey hugged me close as we fell. I do not remember landing, nor do I remember how solidly he managed to embrace me in that endless fragment of a breath that was our fall, but he would not let me go. I remembered his lavender smell, overwhelming me with sweet scent.
He cushioned me just as a bolt of lightning seemed to flash behind my eyes, and I closed them knowing we had landed on the flagstones.
Something changed inside me during that fall. It was as if a window lifted in my mind, and I could see something I had not noticed a moment earlier. Yet, I did not understand what I saw—what I felt. It was as if a switch had been turned, and a room that had once been darkened became illuminated. I heard a voice whisper to me,
Jack, swing up, and Jack swing down, up to the window, over the ground. Swing over the field and the garden wall—
I opened my eyes. I felt pain in my back and along my legs and arms, but I was alive. It seemed someone had put a mattress down below, and yet I knew no one had.
Harvey had been my mattress, my cradle.
He lay there, beneath me, holding me tight, his head smashed on the stones and a calm pool of blood beside him, diluted by raindrops.
I finished the rhyme for him, in my head, the voice of a little girl on a swing tied by rope to the thick branch of a tree.
But watch out for Jack Hackaway if you should fall.
Part Two
The Swallow
“Come ye not here to sleep or slumber.”
Mrs. Haworth had Percy come in and board up the window, for no one wanted to look out from it again. Old Marsh sent me a note that Percy left for me in the hall and Mrs. Haworth brought to my bedside. All he had scribbled down was, “A hasty recovery, miss,” signing it “Mr. M.”
By February, I could walk again.
In early March, my jaw no longer hurt, and by the following summer only a few noticed my limp. I had such an ache at the core of my being, for a day did not pass that I did not think of Harvey and feel a searing pain at the center of my body as if I were experiencing the throes of death and birth itself.
And still, I walked the hallways and the stairs; I ate now and then, and watched the sea from windows; I sat in the gardens and stared at the flowers and vines as they grew and died and grew, and I wondered why people could not be like this, why if we planted them, they could not grow again.
Edyth remained with us though I ignored any teaching or guidance she offered. No one ever told of what she and Spencer had done; nor did I wish to, though I hated her with all my heart. I blamed her for Harvey’s death.
I blamed Spencer for it as well.
I blamed our mother and
Dr. Witherspoon

tonic and our father and Our Father Who Art in Heaven.
I blamed myself.
I blamed the pictures of the nude women my grandfather had tucked into the old Bible.
I had been too weak to attend Harvey’s funeral, but they buried him in the Tombs, as many Villiers before him had been buried. I watched from my window as the doors were opened, and the men crouched down to take his coffin through the entryway. I thought of him there, among our ancestors, and wondered how room had been made for his coffin, or how it was sealed, or if they placed it into the stone wall as some had been buried, or into one of the few stone biers left in that passageway of death.
My father returned for two months only, and then left again for his foreign wars. I have no memory of his visit. Lewis came from university but—too much like my father—did not stay long, either. Like my father, my eldest brother was a stranger to me by then, and I barely recognized him.
My mother wept for ages, and when I tried to comfort her, she said, “When they put him in the Tombs, I remembered how scared he was of the trunk. In the play. Do you remember? How he didn’t want to go in it, because it scared him to be confined like that in a box. When he was a boy, he didn’t like small spaces. I hate thinking of him there.”
“He’s not there,” I whispered as I combed my fingers through her hair. “He’s in heaven.” I began crying, too, and my mother turned away from me.
“There is no heaven,” she said. “It’s what people say because they don’t want to think about that trunk they will be put in when they die.”
My mother, whose health had not returned, remained ill through even the summer season and rarely left her room.
We had become a house of invalids, a house of silences, and a house of sorrow.
I asked Spence to walk with me to Harvey’s grave on a particularly golden day. I still used a cane, and would need his support as we walked the uneven paths through the gardens along the stone walls.
At the doors of the Tombs, I said a few prayers si lently. Spence sat down in the grass and offered me his arm to curl up beneath, for his mood had changed. We sat as if we were little children, rather than a girl of sixteen and a man of nearly twenty. We sat the way Harvey and I had often sat down together, out on the grassy summer cliffs.
“Are you all right these days?” he asked.
“Not too much all right,” I said.
“I worry for you.”
“I worry for all of us,” I said.
“I’ve seen you at night. When you walk up and down the stairs.”
“Do I do that?” I asked, not sure I believed him.
He nodded. “At first I thought you might be sleep-walking.”
“Perhaps I am.”
“Perhaps,” he said. “What about this?” He lifted my arm so that my sleeve fell down a bit. There, on my forearm, were small marks, as if a cat had clawed me.
“I suppose it will take a while to heal.”
He looked me in the eyes as if not believing me.
“My shoulder still hurts, sometimes,” I said.
“But these,” he tapped my forearm. “These aren’t from your fall.”
“Yes they are,” I said.
We were both silent for several minutes. I had begun wishing intensely that Harvey was with us.
“I miss him so much,” Spence said. “You know that, don’t you? I miss him so much. He’s the first person I ever knew in my life. That sounds absurd, but he was my twin. He’s half of me. And he’s gone forever. I knew him like I knew myself. We were different. Night and day. If he was good, I would be bad. If he was hard-working, I would be lazy. We had balance. And now, it’s gone. There is no balance. I don’t know how to be.”
“He’s still with us,” I said, softly.
“I know. I know. In that way that no one ever leaves,” and then he turned to me, sobbing as all of us sobbed at times, but mostly in private.
I held my older brother. For a moment, it was like being with Harvey again. I could pretend that his hair was parted on the right. I could pretend the birthmark was behind his ear; I could pretend I smelled lavender rather than that hint of dirt that Spence always had upon his skin.
But I knew there was no birthmark anywhere on Spence’s body.
I knew in my heart that Harvey would never hold me like this again.
I knew that Spence’s affection was about his vanity. He was not hurt because he missed Harvey. He was hurt because he no longer had a mirror to look at to remind himself of who he might be.
When his heaving sobs had ended, he drew back from me and lay back in the soft grass. “I go back to that day, in my mind,” Spence said.
“Please don’t,” I said.
“I was in the library when I heard the shouts. I went into the hall and saw Harvey running down from the other end, by the doors to mother’s room. He stared at me. Perhaps I imagined it. He moved so fast, how could he have stared? But he judged me then. He judged me. Perhaps he knew about Edyth. Perhaps he didn’t. He was my twin. We knew about each other, even when we didn’t speak of it. Perhaps he forgives me.”
“Yes,” I said. “He does. I know it.”
But I did not mean those words, for I did not forgive Spence, nor did I forgive Edyth. Nor would I allow Harvey to forgive them, for he was the best of our family. I would never forgive myself for my part in this, for if I had only fallen free from Edyth’s grasp, Harvey would never have cradled me to his death.
I missed my brother too much to allow his tragedy to be washed away in forgiveness like soapy water down a drain.
When Spence wandered off for a bit, overcome with a need for privacy, I drew up a twig from the ground and wrote in the dirt, in our secret ancient Chaldean magic language, OSIRIS, ISIS SEARCHES FOR YOU.
Beneath this, I drew one of the symbols of Isis herself—an
the key of eternal life.
That night, feeling as if I had been too hard on my older brother for nearly a year, I climbed the stairs to his room. I would knock, and tell him that all was forgiven. That Harvey had blessed us all. That even the sorrow of our lives could be turned into a shining victory over death itself.
But outside his door, I heard her voice in his room.
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