He was more in doubt now than any time in his life, that he could remember. There were times when his head felt enlarged, like a melon, so full it was of confusion and fright. How he ran from those thoughts (he doesn’t love you, he doesn’t even want you!) when they came looming at him from beyond his periphery, like gulls that seemed to fly in from nowhere. He wanted it to be the way it was, when he was young and the world looked well upon his kind. That world had seemingly left him behind, or thrust him forward into a space of dubious import. Now, faced with the cruelty of life, he could only silently cry out and ache for better days.
It wasn’t that he was angry. He’d had the world, or was it the world had had him? He felt so old and now he didn’t care. Was he just a forlorn soul in need of new eyes? He would close them now, and opening, see things new, a new light, a new dawn. And when he awoke, it would be as though he never was.
When his mother had died, Charles remembered thinking that the only thing left in the world worth keeping intact was his memory of her. He hardly remembered her now; what did that mean? Had he relinquished the last thing he cared about? What did it say about him? Charles wondered if Stuart remembered his mother. He couldn’t relieve himself of this shadow that hung precariously over him, a winged demon that cast parity on everything. To strangers, it appeared as disdain, or less severely, disinterest. They saw a young man with a scarred but neutral face, upon which the world cast its gaze and who, upon its observance, merely shrugged and went along his way; perhaps those with keener gaze caught sight of a more cynical aspect that seemed to think upon each as aggrievance and lacking in true substance. His friends saw through, like an onion, to deeper levels, where his person became a melancholic and dismayed hermit, intellectually towering but troubled through with a weight of inconstancy and the burden of personal dissatisfaction. He was, to them, a carefully subdued man, sometimes (at his worst) priest of lugubriousness.
He didn’t know what to make of the incident with the body. It was all rather surreal, especially Stuart’s reaction. Lindsay, understandably upset by the discovery, was insistent upon reporting it to the Boulogne authorities. Stuart had remarked that since the prevailing tides were from the north, that should any report be submitted, it should be to the Calais police. Even that was foolish, though, he had insisted, since in all likelihood she was a transient, and wouldn’t be missed.
“That’s horrible!” Francis said. “Of course we must report it. She could have been murdered.”
“Was she shot? Stabbed? Strangled? Likely she was drunk and fell off a boat. It happens all the time,” said Stuart.
Really, that was his reasoning? Charles couldn’t understand how he had missed Stuart’s disregard for basic humanity. He felt unable to respond, though he wanted to put Stuart on the chair for being an ass. In what world did he live?
“I’ll go into Calais tomorrow morning,” said Charles. “I won’t tell them about this little debate.” He looked narrowly at Stuart. He noticed Lindsay was glancing back and forth between the two of them, guaging the emotional distance. When she looked at him, her eyes hardened for a moment, glinting as if to say, “Don’t overstep yourself.”
He understood, and slightly panicked said, ?Stu, I understand what you?re saying, but it?s the right thing to do to go to the police. If what you say is true, the worst that can happen is they?ll ask some questions and inquest the body, check for records, that sort of thing. You?re probably right about her.?
The discovery of the body had been the most puzzling thing of all. Or rather, the strangeness of discovering the body, mixed with the debilitating weather and lack of real intrigue seemed to twist what should have been a more notable event into a lazy and turgid affair. Charles felt oddly lackadaisical about it, and he held himself to be a conscientious human, even allowing for the bite of callousness that seemed to evidence itself on every scrap of human nature. He told himself he was tired, that it was everything that contributed to the air around the house; the landscape, the flat scrape of rain against the roof and shutters over the windows, the grey skies forever moving and roiling with bouts of winter sickness. Even inside, the white carpets seemed to signify the isolation he felt, and served to increase his negative complacency.
There was more to it than that. Even with spring finally beginning to emerge, spreading from the coast to the inland, the air was sotted with a grimy emptiness of spirit. That was it, he thought. This place is so empty. It reminded him of his father?s office. He had always known loneliness, in an afterthought, rich child?s way, surrounded by toys and games and money and all good things that it can buy, yet never knowing the joy of companionship or camaraderie.
This gave him pause. What he had at home in Chicago was a subterfuge, a kind of escapists? dream, yet so far removed from the mill of life, that he had, in a way, never lived. He had existed, and even now he existed in a form not so different from his childhood. Here, he was surrounded by fewer material possessions, but the emotions, the physicality of the place was also a factor. Here, the isolation was physical; as a child, it was emotional.
He felt he was beginning to understand something. He felt a stab of regret, wishing for some way of deflecting the past into a kind of useful venture, a means to produce present happiness. That is vain, he thought, and remembered why he had chosen to come across the water in the first place.