They come from disparate backgrounds- Jamie a wealthy industrialist whose life is like an imperfect but many faceted jewel- brilliant, flawed and with a glitter that is designed to distract the observer. Casey- a card carrying member of the Irish Republican Army, who must face the fact that five years away has left him a stranger, a misfit in his own neighbourhood where not everyone is sympathetic to a convicted rebel. Pamela- who has come to Ireland in search of a memory and a man who may not have existed in the first place.
Through it all runs the ribbon of a love story; love of country, the beginning love of two people unable to resist the pull of each another regardless of the cost to themselves and those around them and the selfless love of one man who no longer believes himself capable of such emotion.
Ultimately this is the story of Ireland herself, of how nation is bound to one's identity, woven into the weft of all we become. And whether, finally, freedom and peace can walk down the same road, hand in hand.
Release date: December 1, 2000
Publisher: Starry Night Press
Print pages: 630
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Part 1- The Door Unlatched
The Pixillated Mick
Belfast, April 1968
A moon, milk-white as a dove’s tail, newly round as fresh churned butter, rose skimmingly on a furred black bed. This Jamie Kirkpatrick observed through eyes attached too dearly to a brain soaked and swollen from three days worth of scotch.
He was dead. Of this much he was certain. He was dead and someone was singing
‘Ave Maria’ in a tender voice that understood the childlike yearning of the
music. Very nice, Jamie thought, so there were to be angels singing in heaven. A relief that trite perhaps, but a relief nonetheless. He wasn’t in hell and he supposed that was a good thing. He reconsidered his geography a moment later as the first orchestral wave of pain made its way through the layers of unconsciousness. Perhaps, he thought wincing, perhaps hell was singing angels.
An angel spoke. “The boy is drunk,” it said.
An English angel? This must be Irish hell.
“If we don’t bring him around soon he’ll miss the funeral,” said a rather more peevish tone.
Funeral? So he hadn’t even been buried yet and that made this purgatory. He mentally demoted the speakers from cherubim and seraphim to outcast rebel angels. Neither heaven nor hell, not such a relief that.
There was a sound like a thousand nails on a chalkboard and then sunlight, turbo-charged, landed on his eyelids with a thump. Long filaments of pain plucked at blind nerves, the string section beginning its warm-up.
Powers of speech in abeyance, James Stuart Kirkpatrick the Third and it would seem, Final, settled for a weak wiggle of the fingers. No one noticed.
“Christ,” said the first voice, “it smells like a three-day-old corpse in here, didn’t anyone notice he was drinking?”
There was a short silence, embarrassed in its depth that spoke eloquently of how inappropriate the remark had been.
“Damned Irish,” continued the first angel imperiously (definitely British origin that one) unimpeded by its faux-pas, “can’t hold their liquor worth a fig.”
“Let he,” intoned a sepulchral voice that sounded, to Jamie, remarkably like his own, “who is lily-white gild the first stone, the corpse,” there was a vinegary laugh that seemed to swoop about his face, “is not deaf.”
God spoke then, voice of dry authority, words falling with spherical precision, like one ice cube upon the next, “Cast, dear boy is, I believe, the word you are looking for.”
A sound of scythes, sparkling with sun, cutting through future words and thought, sliced through the room.
“You two may leave. I will get his Lordship up.” The scurrying feet of dismissed angels and then a sigh, cleaving inebriation neatly down the middle and dropping it to either side of the bed.
“Can you open your eyes, Jamie?”
Jamie, in some instinctual wisdom, attempted one eye at a time. The left eye upon opening found the belt of Orion glittering above it, Al Nilam, Al Nitak, and the small, tipping from the sky Mintaka. Champagne gold, palest blue, and delicate lichen green. He closed the eye and tried the right, above it hovered some fuzzy, wee being that was lit like milk over opals. His soul perhaps? He closed his eye again.
“I think not,” he said through a vocal box that felt as though it were culturing penicillin.
“Damned barbaric Saxon custom, being sober at one’s father’s funeral. Nevertheless, it is customary to be able to walk upright into the service, so up we go dear boy.”
A whoosh of nausea, so vast and varied in its array that Jamie thought he might pass out from it (were he not already dead) swept over him.
“There you’re sitting up and though you don’t look very pretty, it is progress. Now tell me your name.”
“James Stuart Kirkpatrick,” Jamie croaked.
“Good and now mine,” the voice coaxed.
“God,” Jamie replied with certitude.
“My name, I said,” the tone was quickly becoming exasperated, so much, Jamie thought, for eternal patience.
“Jehovah, Yahweh, Elohim,” Jamie ventured meekly, hearing in the distance the firm click of pearly gates shutting.
“Well I suppose I’ve been called worse,” the voice muttered, “alright, different tactic then, recite the Arabic alphabet to me.”
God was Muslim. There were going to be an awful lot of irate Catholics in purgatory, he wouldn’t be lonely at any rate.
He dutifully recited the alphabet; air swirling in bruising eddies about his fractured nerves. Rote memory failed and nausea prevailed just as he reached eliph and he halted abruptly to throw up in a champagne bucket that had been placed handily beneath his chin.
“Men,” said a voice like honey melting through dark rum, “never know how to handle these things properly.” Lutes of memory piped, drums of pain began their first thumping chorus in his head and Jamie began to consider that he might be really rather undead. There was death- yes- but not his own.
“I’ll put him in the shower,” the honeyed voice continued, “and you go down to the kitchen and see if you can’t get hot coffee, a pint of scotch, and some aspirin.” Muslim or not, God was getting bossed rather badly.
In no condition to protest, Jamie found himself submitting to hands whose ministrations were, if not tender, at least appealing. A shower of freezing cold water followed by hot then cold again. This pattern, repeated until he howled in protest, had its desired effect and he could, when opening his eyes, see the owner of the honey rum voice. There was a rather limited amount of sympathy in her face so he closed his eyes again.
Swirling champagne golds, palest fainting blues, mossy lichen greens settled and became the colors of his father’s suit, the moon, no longer milk-white, a gilded mirror. Moon, stars, God, and angels fled in the wake of memory.
Like silk, like wine, like taffy or molten lead, depending on your perspective, Jamie was alternately poured, pushed, and molded into an oyster gray suit. Washed, pomaded, buffed, gilded, and spit forth from the half-shell like an errant pearl.
Coffee, blisteringly fragrant, was shoved under his nose, three white aspirin staring up at him like mutely blind mice.
“Velvet for the hammer blows,” said Miss Honey Rum, her voice softened by several shades of grief.
“What’s the scotch for?” he asked, nodding toward the bottle of amber-bitten poison she’d requested.
“Courage,” she grimly uncapped the scotch, poured a generous three fingers into a glass, and swallowed it smoothly down, “my own that is.”
“Thanks, Jessica,” he said quietly, smiling at the one female of his own age he’d managed to keep as a friend and nothing more nor less, since childhood. The enormity of the day began to press down rather heavily on his newly found sobriety. “How late am I?”
“No so very late,” she said kindly, “but I thought you might like to know that President de Valera is waiting downstairs to make his condolences to you.”
“What?” Jamie nearly choked on the mouthful of boiling coffee he’d been gingerly nudging towards his throat. Definitely undead.
“What indeed,” God, in the form of his old Oxford literature professor and dearest friend, Jonathan Wexler, re-entered the room, a pearly gray overcoat draped over his arm. “His granddaughter Sile is with him and they’d like a minute of your time as he’s not really well enough to attend the service.”
Jamie rose carefully, giving his equilibrium time to sort out the dimensions of floor and ceiling.
“How long has he been waiting?” he asked, wanting to plug his ears and avoid the answer.
Jessica, fair and restrained in a black dress, consulted her watch. “About twenty minutes, which is-”
“About nineteen and a half minutes longer than he’s used to waiting,” John interjected, “so I propose we get downstairs.”
Jamie nodded, numb and wordless. On the way down the stairs, he contemplated several methods of apology for his inebriated tardiness and rejected them all as inferior to merely falling facedown on the carpet and groveling at the man’s feet. Which, when faced, in his father’s study, with the man in the flesh, seemed quite inadequate as well.
Eamonn de Valera, the stuff of Irish political legend, ‘The Long Fellow’, the man who had achieved mythic proportions akin to those of Old Testament prophets, sat, frail and sightless, in the study’s harmonies of garnet and mahogany, a cup of tea balanced severely on his knee. The man who was Irish history for nearly all of the twentieth century looked directly with blind eyes into Jamie’s own and said, “Son I am very sorry for your loss, your father was a fine man. He will be missed by many.”
Sile de Valera composed and graceful in brown tweed, rose and shook Jamie’s hand, “Forgive us for intruding here today but Grandfather was,” she smiled ruefully, “adamant about making his condolences in person.”
Jamie smiled, “Please don’t apologize. I’m honored to have both of you in my home. It’s I who should apologize for making you wait, I was only just informed-”
One long-fingered hand, the hand that had been fitted to the glove of its country, rose and put a halt to his words.
“No matter young man, no matter. Sit down, will you? It makes me nervous when someone hovers above my head.”
What followed was, in the light of Jamie’s rather dazed and bemused recollection, a spot of warmth in a very black day. There were recollections of his father, a tangential discussion on the state of Irish literature in this year of 1967, and a dissection of the finer points of Anglo-Irish affairs. The entire episode, he would see in retrospect, had been designed to lift him up and away from his grief for a small space.
It was likely the only thing that got him through the rest of the day with any modicum of dignity. A funeral at best is a dismal affair, an Irish Catholic funeral, replete with incense, Latin intonations, and the flutter and flurry of purple robes, was in terms of misery, at the apex of that particular quality.
At the graveside, things began to slide from bad to worse, however. The omnipresent Irish rain had begun to fall and it seemed God was either spectacularly absent or possessed of a maudlin sense of humor.
Jamie knelt, kissed the polished mahogany of his father’s coffin, felt the white-waxen scent of roses fill his senses, and knew himself suddenly to be alone, without a guard between himself and his own mortality. He felt the fine mist of rain on his cheek and heard as though through a muffling veil one of the plump purple-robed pigeons of Christ mutter that a man who’d broken so openly with the church and whose death was at best questionable, ought not, perhaps, to have had such a sendoff.
Jamie, still kneeling, asked, quite politely all things considered, how many years one got in purgatory for the murder of a prince of the church?
It all looked likely to erupt into a less than reverent scene when a sudden silence descended and the empurpled pigeons scuttled to the far end of the grave. Turning his head, Jamie saw the long, tall figure that had so recently graced his father’s study, stop just short of the grave, cane hitting the ground with a thump that reverberated under the feet of all assembled. Proud and rare as a blue heron, Eamon de Valera smiled at him quite mildly and said gently, “I believe your daddy was an admirer of John Donne, was he not?”
“He was at that,” Jamie replied, suppressing an unseemly grin.
“Well then,” said the backbone of the nation and began, without preamble, to recite,
‘Death be not proud, though some have called thee,
Mighty and dreadful, for thou art not so;
Moments later when he reached,
‘One short sleep past, we wake eternally,
And death shall be no more: Death, thou wilt die!’, there was not a dry eye to be found. He stood beside Jamie like a stalwart relation as the mourners filed past, nodding and murmuring a word or two to their stunned and awed babble. When the representatives of God, faces plummier than their attire, made their way past, these men to whom all knees bent and all voices lowered, to whom reverence was mere sugar in the tea, to them he inclined his head slightly and said ‘Gentlemen,’ in a freezingly quiet voice.
“Thank you again,” Jamie said to him later as the old man, leaning wearily on his cane, prepared to leave. “I can’t tell you how much it would have meant to my father that you came here today.”
“I came to bring you this,” hands whose strength was still formidable grasped his own, hands that had bent and molded a nation for better or for worse for the greater part of one hundred years. Something small and compact was palmed into Jamie’s grasp, “your father gave this to me, my wife Sinead and I enjoyed it immensely.” Jamie gazed at the thin book resting in his hands and tears clouded his vision for the first time that day. When he looked up again there was a small smile on the face of the old man, “Your daddy was very proud of you boy, don’t disappoint him.”
And then, without pomp or ceremony, the man who had inspired every human emotion in great quantities within the Irish, the man who’d been worshipped, scorned, deified and trampled into the mud and then risen to glory again, was gone. Jamie was never to see him again. But inside the defiantly slim book he held, was a loose sheaf of paper covered in a trembling, though still masterful pen. It was the opening of John Donne’s ‘Biathanatos’. ‘A Treatise on the Lawfulness of Suicide,’ was the subheading and it was then Jamie realized how well the man had known his father and how far his grace had extended this day.
* * *
The rest of the day quickly lost any semblance of dignity. It might actually, Jamie thought grimly, be qualified as farce.
Upon returning to the house, ‘Kirkpatrick’s Folly,’ as it was known in less polite quarters, there was heard a sound so unearthly and unholy that Jessica, not known for cowardice, refused to go in until John checked things over.
John was back only moments later, “Some misguided fool has gone and hired a professional keener if you can believe it. I’ve dispatched them,” he said, “and paid them for their pains,” he added in response to Jamie’s enquiring look.
Later, around a lavish table of food laid for the wake, there was a narrowly averted international incident between a former French mistress of his father’s and a not so former Yugoslavian one.
It was nine o’clock in the evening as the last of the crowd left, some still crying, others, having met hours earlier with the bottom of a bottle, hovering between recollecting every minute of their acquaintanceship with Jamie’s father and passing out cold in the driveway. Jamie’s primary emotion was relief.
He retired then, to his father’s study, needing desperately the comfort of books, well-worn carpets and chairs, and the last lingering scent of his father- pipe tobacco, dusty pages, and the sharp overnote of lime from his aftershave. For Jamie, it was the smell of comfort.
John, no longer looking nor sounding like a plausible God, Muslim or otherwise, sank into the vast reaches of an old Victorian armchair. Jessica, long American legs tucked up demurely sat on a velvet-covered loveseat. Both accepted, with sighs of exhaustion, the glasses of ‘Connemara Mist’ he offered them. It was his own brand, made by his family for three hundred years, and was the beverage of choice for rich drunks the world over.
Through the south and west-facing windows, the evening sun poured flame. Jessica’s slippery apricot hair turned red as rubies and John’s neatly trimmed iron-gray coif seemed streaked with blood. They could see all of Belfast spread out below them, colored in the waning light in shades of brick and brimstone, of lavender and mint. Lights, twinkling like jewels thrown from the hand of a careless sultan. And they perched above, minareted and mosqued, corbelled and fluted, blown-gold and husked against a cream-clotted sky. The study, sugar-spun of iron and glass, sat at the far end of the house resembling nothing so much as a wrought-iron Victorian birdcage, safe from the vagaries of wind and rain, open to sky and light, to the moon and stars, though not, perhaps, to God.
They drank their first drink in comfortable silence, all tired and without the fortitude required for speech. All having been said, all having been done, Jamie thought he would quite like to redrink himself into a stupor.
Jamie had been born in this house on a cold, wet, windy Ides of March night. A snake had moved in the next day, the first snake, it was reputed, to be seen in Ireland since St. Patrick had banished them all in the Dark Ages. ‘Cursed by God or blessed by the devil, depending on how you look at it,’ had been his grandmother’s unhelpful summation some months later when all manner of wildlife had taken up residence in the House of Kirkpatrick. Feathered and furred things, that twittered, hummed, and crept between struts of plaster and marble at night. A nest of squirrels, gray and plump, that settled in the baby’s wardrobe, a fawn that dropped grass and bluebells into his pram one sunny afternoon. It spooked the nanny, though to credit her, she didn’t resign until the butterflies came. It was a hot, humid August afternoon and she’d gone to check on Jamie, having put him down for a nap some two hours earlier. Upon looking into the crib she found a dozen butterflies, iridescent dust swirling in the air as the wings rose and fell with the deep rhythms of infant sleep. There, resting on his back in all the breathing colors of orange and blue, silver and green, purple and red. ‘As if the lot of them were hypnotized,’ she later told the sympathetic housekeeper. Nannies came and went, but the animals stayed, including the five-foot long coal-black snake, who turned out to have milky-white sightless eyes.
Things began to grow that shouldn’t have, wild things untended by the hand of man, clumps of blue forget-me-nots between the cracks in the house’s masonry, meandering trails of buttercups across the immaculate green lawns, a white lilac tree that appeared outside his window that first spring and grew to a stunning twelve feet by the next spring. Pouring its blossoms with excess and abandon into his room where they rolled across the carpet like pearls toward an emperor.
Cursed by God or blessed by the devil? Who could say? Even his father, who could be quite prosaic when he chose to be, could not quite explain his son. How they’d lost him one terrible night when he was four and found him in the morning asleep and unharmed between the hooves of an unbroken horse. How a doe, two springs old perhaps, had followed him all one summer like an infatuated girl and how when they’d sent him away to school that year, sent him away from the animals and the ocean, she’d nearly died from it.
Away from the ocean, for they thought it would surely kill him, drawn as he was to it. In times of sorrow, he shot like an arrow, true and straight, to the water. He could manage a sailboat alone on the rough Atlantic seas by the time he was ten. And it was always alone that he wanted to sail. ‘Not sad but not happy either, just less empty’ he’d replied to his father’s question of ‘why?’ His father had left it alone after that and Jamie continued, in sorrow and joy, to flee to the water’s welcoming arms.
It was, on this night of his father’s funeral, all he wanted. The forgiveness of water. Either cursed by God or blessed by the devil, it no longer mattered, the pain was the same.
He looked fondly into the faces of his two oldest and dearest friends and wished, desperately, that he was alone.
The doorbell rang as John, ignoring a stern look from Jessica, refilled their glasses.
Maggie, who was cook and counsel to the house of Kirkpatrick, poked her head in the door a moment later, “Sorry to disturb ye Jamie but there’s a pack of gypsies at the backdoor says ye’ll know they’ve only come to pay their respects.” Maggie quirked her eyebrows as if she thought this last was of dubious likelihood.
“Aye, thank you, Maggie, I’ll deal with it,” Jamie said, wearily rubbing the vertical crease between his eyebrows.
“Jamie, do you really think-” John began but ceased abruptly at the black look he received. Tinkers had always been welcome on Kirkpatrick land and given Kirkpatrick hospitality without stint. It had been so since time immemorial and if Jamie’s look was anything to judge by, things weren’t about to change now.
‘Kirkpatrick’s Folly’, known as such for its hodgepodge of Victorian, Georgian and Edwardian stylings, (the result of a disagreement between the husband and wife who’d built it) sat above Belfast like an albatross above a hot and shimmering sea. Long, narrow Georgian windows looked out over the city of steel and blood, a city built on ships and all they could carry. In the back of the house, the windows were Victorian octagons, half moons, small wavy glassed portholes that looked over broad green lawns, lush gardens, and the stone walkways that graced the last twenty acres left of what had originally been an estate of estimable size. It was however still large enough to take in a travel-weary party of gypsies for a day or two. It was this Jamie intended to say before returning to his friends and his bottle of whiskey.
He was struck speechless however by the size of the group standing in utter quiet and stillness in his front garden. Three hundred Tinkers, Ireland’s gypsies, stood, hats off, heads inclined, caravans parked in a sedate line down the curving length of the drive. The silence was so absolute, so heavy, that Jamie thought he might buckle under the sheer weight and expectation of it. Salvation came in a throaty voice; a voice filled with vodka and cigarettes, a voice that rumbled up warmly, a Russian wind from his childhood.
“Jemmy, my little boy, my baby,” arms enfolded him, scent like black cinnamon on gardenias enveloped him.
“Yevgena,” he said in relief, in gratitude. “You came.”
Black eyes, like Adriatic plums, Levantine in their seduction, met the green of his own. “Of course I came, where else would I be but with you today? I am sorry to be late, it is not so easy being an unofficial diplomat to this bunch,” she indicated the crowd, still silent and watchful, arrayed behind her. “But I ask a friend to come in my absence. I think perhaps,” Adriatic plums sparkled, “he was an appropriate substitute.”
Jamie shook his head, a smile pricking at the corners of his mouth; “I’m not even going to ask how you know him.”
Yevgena Vasiliovich, high queen to the gypsies, mother to every misfit and outcast in the world’s population, representative of her people in the United Nations and still, at sixty-four, looking like a courtesan from the court of Ivan the Terrible, shook her head. Then smiled the slow smile that had seduced heads of state in boardrooms and, it was rumored, bedrooms as well.
“I wouldn’t tell you anyway, even if you are the prettiest, most charming boy in the world. Now are we going to stand out here all night or are you going to let me in?”
Jamie nodded and turning back to the people, some of Europe’s most poverty-stricken and proud, said, “Thank you for coming, my father would be honored, my home is your home tonight and you are welcome.”
There were nods at this but it wasn’t until Yevgena inclined her head at them that they began to move and talk.
Yevgena tucked her arm through his own, “I suppose you are keeping watch with that old terror from Oxford tonight are you?”
“I suppose I am,” Jamie said as the ‘old terror’ came out into the entryway.
“Saints and bawds preserve us it’s the Queen of the Gypsies herself come to visit,” John said, a grudging affection tinting the dryness of his tone.
“The ancient mariner still lives I see,” Yevgena retorted in turn and then, characteristically, grabbed John by the ears and treated him to an exuberant Russian kiss on each cheek.
Drawn by the scent of drama, Jessica appeared in the hall, cheeks whiskey flushed, top two buttons of her sedate suit popped open, looking for all the world like a freshly tumbled dairymaid.
Exquisite ink-black eyebrows arched over narrowed eyes, “Jemmy?” Yevgena demanded, laying a proprietary hand along his forearm.
“Don’t you recognize my playmate?” Jamie asked causing Jessica’s buttermilk skin to glow red.
Yevgena turned her head this way and that, narrowing her eyes even further, making Jessica twitch in discomfort under such intense scrutiny. A delighted smile dawned upon Levantine shores.
Jessica nodded and was swept up in the same fierce hug that Jamie had experienced only moments ago.
“Well,” Yevgena held her at arm’s length, “you have filled out most admirably. These two,” she spoke to John, “spent a summer with me in California when they were only so high,” she waved her hand at a height of about five feet, “such mischief-makers they were. Still are I imagine,” she gave Jamie an arch look. “Now,” she flung off her red cloak, “will someone get me a drink?” She strode imperiously into the study, flicking back a wing of hair impatiently.
“Vodka,” John, having followed her into the room, had Waterford decanter in hand and an evil twinkle in his eyes.
Yevgena held her hands up, “John my darling there are things you don’t seem to remember so well, a Russian gypsy with a bottle of vodka is a disaster waiting to happen. I’ll have some of that fog stuff you men swill.”
“Mist,” Jamie said.
“Fog, mist, is all bad weather, just don’t put any ice in it.”
Jamie brought her drink as specified and then excused himself for a moment while he made arrangements for the Tinkers’ dinner.
Yevgena wasted no time in coming directly to the point.
“How is he, how is my Jemmy?” she asked, eyes gone opaque and piercing.
“Not so good,” John said “it was as you know rather unexpected, Jamie was in Paris on business. I think,” he hesitated a moment, “I think his father was waiting for him to be away.”
“My poor sweet James,” Yevgena said, all of her sixty-four years echoing in her voice. John knew she meant the father, not the son, for both had been surrogate sons to her, though she was officially Jamie’s godmother.
Yevgena Vasiliovich had been ‘marked for reduction’ some twenty-two years earlier in the Csillag internment camp and had been saved only by chance, the end of the war and the fleeing of the Nazis. The Csillag had merely been a way station for Auschwitz. Jewish by birth, gypsy by marriage she was doubly cursed under Hitler’s regime. She and her family, a husband, three adolescent daughters, and a pair of rosy brown twin boys had been rounded up and forced to march the fifty miles to the camp. Within a month, both her husband and daughters were dead of typhus and the boys had been transported to Auschwitz. She was never able to determine what happened to them, though the monstrous stories of Josef Mengele’s private labs and his intense fascination with twins had never ceased to haunt her sleeping and waking hours. She herself had been transported to Auschwitz a month after the boys and had been due to go to the ovens when liberation occurred. She’d been too weak to walk out of the camp on her own accord and had thought to merely huddle in a corner and die, but as fate would have it an Irish diplomat, there on a fact-finding mission for the UN, discovered her and carried her out. She spent several weeks in a British field hospital, her resurrector coming to see her as often as he could.
When she’d been released from the hospital she’d nowhere to go, no family left, no home, no life. It was then that James Kirkpatrick the First, Jamie’s grandfather, had offered her a job as a personal assistant. The title came to mean many things over the years and she had become an integral part of the Kirkpatrick family while not really meaning to. She was secretary, counsel, confidante, hostess, and friend to her rescuer and after seeing how lonely a young man the second James Kirkpatrick was, she’d become a mother figure to him. Jamie, her Jemmy, had barely been more than a toddler at the time and she’d taken him to her heart with a fierceness that shocked and frightened her. Today she’d not actually been late for the funeral she just hadn’t seen how she could bear to watch one son bury the other.
“He has been drinking?” she asked, looking directly at Jessica, knowing that John’s views on drinking were somewhat more slanted.
“Yes,” Jessica drew the word out reluctantly, “but only for the day and night before.”
“We will let him have his way tonight but after that, pffft,” Yevgena’s long red fingernails sliced the air across her throat, “he is broke off.”
“Cut off,” John said on the rise of a yawn, “and who may I ask is going to wean him away from the bottle?”
“I have a plan, not to worry,” Yevgena said in a tone that inspired alarm in her listeners. “Now let us join Jamie outside, is not good for him to brood about in this room, his father is too much here.”
The sight that greeted them outside was rather startling to the Anglo-Saxon sensibilities of how a funeral day was to be spent. Fires were lit in pits, food was being cooked and distributed, spices skirled and scented the unseasonably warm air, children barefoot and laughing were running about and torches lit the night like great pulsating stars.
“Are you certain this is wise?” John asked, watching Jamie make a crown of ivy and crocus for a particularly grubby little girl.
“He will have his whole life to mourn his father, tonight though is a dangerous time, tonight and for the next while. Jamie needs to look after someone, otherwise,” Yevgena looked soberly through the thickening twilight, “he will be devoured by the pain. I saw it happen to his father, I won’t allow it to happen to him.”
“You could have brought him a puppy, three hundred gypsies is a little excessive even by your standards.”
“Puppies he has,” Yevgena retorted smoothly, “it is something else entirely that he needs.”
John, feeling that to inquire further would be to implicate himself in later crimes, wandered off to better acquaint himself with Gypsy custom and drink.
Yevgena, followed by Jessica, made her way over to Jamie, stopping here and there to pat a baby, inquire as to the health of various people, and to drop in her wake beads and baubles of such color and quantity as to cause a great squealing and delight amongst the children.
She stooped over Jamie, kissing him gently on the top of his head as he knelt in the grass surrounded by a group of giggling girls, pulling coins out of their ears and making a variety of accessories from the supplies in his garden.
“You need a haircut,” she chided gently, pushing back the golden hair that hung in his eyes. “You also need a woman to look after you,” she smiled at Jessica, “why don’t you make an honest man of this boy?”
“When he makes a dishonest woman of me I’ll be more than happy to,” Jessica replied only half in jest.
“Where is that wife of yours anyhow?” Yevgena asked sharply, bantering stripped from her words like blistered paint.
Jamie finished wrapping a length of cream and green ivy around a dark-eyed cherub’s neck before answering.
“Yevgena you know full well where Colleen is and that she is not my wife anymore.”
“Isn’t she? Have you divorced yet? No, I didn’t think so, her place is here not stuck up there in that home for dried up-”
“Yevgena,” Jamie’s voice was harsh, “don’t.”
“Alright, alright,” Yevgena spread her fingers in pure Russian placation, “I only thought that-”
“Yevgena,” the tone was icy.
Yevgena rolled her eyes and left him to his flowersmithing, pulling Jessica neatly to her side and leading her towards the cobbled stone paths that ran through the formal rose gardens.
“Are there any women for Jamie?”
Jessica, feeling rather harassed, answered diplomatically, “Not that I know of.”
“He needs to move on with his life,” Yevgena said firmly.
“He has done rather well all things considered.” Jessica bending down feigned great interest in a freshly budding rose, trying to avoid the rather intent way Yevgena was considering her.
“He needs a woman, it’s not healthy for him to pine after that half-dead girl who’s shut herself off from the world.”
“He’s accepted Colleen’s decision.”
“How many times have you been married, Jessitchka?” Yevgena was all sweetness.
“Four,” said Jessica. As you well know you old harridan, thought Jessica.
“So,” the word was as sibilant as the serpent, “four times it does not work, four times you think you are in love and then pffft, he turns out to be a swine. Sometimes,” her voice lowered confidentially, “it is better to marry a friend and let the rest come and go as it will.” She turned Jessica sharply around a corner, landing them on a small knoll where the festivities below were in plain view. “Jamie is very easy, as you Westerners say, to look upon is he not?”
It was true, Jessica thought, and there wasn’t a woman alive who needed it pointed out to her. Even the sun seemed to bestow him with its last kiss of light, leaving him glittering while others moved about in darkness. Gold hair, merciless green eyes, lean and lithe as a cat, with a mind that could cut razors and occasionally did.
“I’d never want to lose him as a friend,” Jessica said softly, barely realizing she’d spoken aloud. “Besides he’s a dreadful tendency to match me up with his friends.”
“Ah yes the Vietnamese photographer,” Yevgena said.
“Canadian,” Jessica amended politely, “he takes pictures in Vietnam.”
“Well, war can be a very seductive mistress,” Yevgena said, in what, Jessica thought, was intended to be comforting.
“Yevitsa,” Jamie’s voice rang out reprovingly from over a rosebush, “you’re not telling her about your affair with Khrushchev are you?”
Yevgena made a face, “Mind your manners young man, that’s Comrade Khrushchev to you.”
“And darling Nikki to you,” Jamie said with a grin.
Night had descended fully and the skies above bloomed with stars, gold, and silver, yellow, blue and red, hot and scorching to the naked eye. The torches threw out long blazes of light, lending pools to the grass here and there, in and out of which small brown feet danced and shimmered. Someone took up a violin and the night air began to furl around the sad, bleeding notes of the mad Hungarian Liszt.
Yevgena, fondly stroking the hair of a man at least thirty years her junior had settled herself in a low slung garden chair, Jamie and Jessica to either side of her. She regaled them with tales of espionage and derring-do in the world of high politics that she claimed to merely dabble in.
“How did you fare at the conference?” Jamie asked, deflecting her attention from the potent liquid he was refilling his glass with.
Yevgena sighed and ceased petting the man at her knee. She’d recently represented her people at a human rights conference held by Eastern Bloc countries, a group not notoriously famous for their interest in human rights in the first place.
“Could have been worse, I suppose,” she said in that blackly prosaic Russian way of hers. “I have enough problems within the gypsy camp itself, the Hungarians think they are the only real gypsies as do the Romanians, though neither can clearly define for me what that actually means.”
“But Yevitsa,” Jamie chided gently, “you’re Hungarian yourself.”
“Only by marriage, though to be a Russian Jew is just as complicated and without definition these days. The conference wasn’t going too badly once I got the Polish contingent off the booze,” she looked pointedly at Jamie’s half-drunk tumbler. “But then there was that terrible incident where four Roma were killed by a gas bomb. Someone had booby-trapped a sign that said ‘Gypsies go home.’ Which is difficult to do considering how hell-bent everyone is on ridding their countries of gypsies. After the news came in about the bomb it was a little hard to get everyone at the table to talk.” She took a breath and then let it out all at once. “Germany was willing to pay reparation money from the war but it was to go towards building settlements. Try to explain that settlement and concentration camp are not so far apart in the gypsy mind and those grim Teutonic types go deaf. Besides Germany and the rest of the world would just as soon forget the gypsies that were exterminated, what are eighty thousand homeless riffraff compared to six million Jews.” She drank broodingly from her glass, “Understand that I say this as a Jew. Jewish memory,” she tapped her head, “is very long, maybe too long, I think sometimes. But gypsies,” she gestured broadly towards the encampment, “gypsies act as if there is no memory at all. The world has forgotten too, there is no mention of us in the records and rarely in the history books that seem to be springing up like mushrooms. Perhaps it is our nature to forget though, all our tradition is oral, and moving from place to place we shed our stories, change them, kaleidoscope them in and out to suit our purposes. Of course,” the prosaic Russian was back, “illiteracy does not help.”
She sighed and shifted her position, hair gleaming like polished obsidian in the firelight, strands of it falling and catching in the folds of her crimson scarf. Courtesan, queen, and mother were tired.
“Perhaps is best what is easiest, to forget. Remembering only honors the dead; it does not bring them back. And so, you have more babies,” she watched a pretty pair of boys scamper past, “and you build a future for them. Ah, Jemmy,” she sat up abruptly and clapped her hands together, “I am too silly being sad, I am forgetting your present.”
Jamie groaned, “Yevitsa, I would think after last time you’d give up on the gift-giving.”
Yevgena shrugged her shoulders expressively, “You give a man a camel one time and he never lets you forget it.”
“You didn’t really-” Jessica said, beginning to laugh.
“She did,” Jamie said exasperatedly, “for my thirtieth birthday. Bertha the Camel, she of two humps and great spitting ability.”
“Ah, but she came in very useful did she not?” Yevgena waved an index finger in his direction. She turned to Jessica; “He gave her to an Arab minister of trade in exchange for being allowed to export that poisonous Kilkenny Fog he makes.”
John, looking very relaxed and happy, slid bonelessly onto the edges of their small group. “Talking about Bertha are you?” He grinned, “Dear God, don’t tell me you’ve brought him another gift, Yevgena!”
“But of course I have,” she leaned forward and pinched Jamie’s cheek affectionately, “would your Yevitsa forget your birthday?”
“I rather wish you would sometimes,” Jamie said dryly.
“Well then what is it this time?” John rubbed his hands with relish.
Yevgena smiled slowly, gleefully, mischief abounding on Levantine shores now.
“I’ve brought you a girl,” she said.
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