Eve B. Hart
Disclaimer: It's PC's world, I just play in it.
Author's Note: The title alludes to the famous last words of Virginia Woolf in her suicide note: "I feel certain that I am going mad again: I feel we can't go through another of those terrible times. And I shan't recover this time. I begin to hear voices . . ."
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"You promised to play nicely." A hand settled reassuringly – or was that warningly? – on the small of her back.
"I did no such thing." She wriggled her hips slightly to discourage his touch.
"I don't want to meet her. I don't even like her."
"I believe you said – verbatim – 'Lady Maskelene was a lovely woman.'"
"How does that translate into 'I would like to meet her for tea and chat about my husband, with whom she's in love'? And by the way, have you so little to occupy your time that you feel the need to remember what I say verbatim?"
"If you'll recall, my dear, I was trapped behind a wall at the time."
"Perhaps we should have left you there…."
"What was that, Helen?"
The man, Aloysius, decided not to press the point and gently rapped his knuckles on the door of the suite. Helen, brunette hair and brown eyes a contrast to her companion's towheaded paleness, straightened at the sound of stirrings within the apartment.
After a moment a woman, raven-haired and taller, with blue eyes, answered the door. She smiled, ever the gracious host, at Helen. "Please, come in. Here, let me take your jacket," she urged in a rich British accent.
Helen politely relinquished her suede jacket to her hostess. "I've heard quite a bit about you, Lady Maskelene."
Closing the door to the coat closet, the woman gestured for Helen to have a seat on the sofa before the fireplace. "I'd be lying if I said I'd heard anything about you."
"I suppose it's just as well. My husband is a painfully private person, as I'm sure you've figured out."
"Yes," Lady Maskelene replied softly. "I had figured that out... May I offer you a drink? Wine, perhaps?"
Helen smiled sweetly and shook her head, easing onto the couch. "I don't drink wine, thank you."
Lady Maskelene appeared taken aback. "No wine?" Then she laughed. "However did Aloysius put up with you?"
"Oh, my husband puts up with me just fine, Lady Maskelene." The emphasis on "my husband" – and her use of the present tense - was subtle but unmistakable.
"Viola, please," the woman insisted, ignoring but not missing the tone in Helen's voice. "If not wine, would you prefer something else?"
"No, thank you," Helen answered with a pointed smile.
Viola took a seat in a wingchair next to the fireplace. "I have a vineyard, you know."
"Yes, Aloysius mentioned it at some point. Near the sea, yes?"
Viola nodded. "That's where we first met. He was investigating a crime and came to question me. It was attraction at first sight." She smiled.
Helen returned it with her own venomous smirk. "Sounds like something right out of a novel."
Viola's smile decreased by a few watts. "I suppose so. I was absolutely smitten before he even spoke."
"How prudent," Helen murmured sardonically.
"I hope you don't take offense to my saying... you look younger than I thought you'd be. If you don't mind telling me, how old are you?"
Helen grinned. "I met Aloysius when I was seventeen. He was thirty-three. I assume you don't need a calculator?"
She watched patiently as Viola quickly added the numbers up. "No," Lady Maskelene replied. "I don't need a calculator. But, my, that's awfully young, compared. How long were you married before you..." Her voice trailed off, unsure.
"Died," Helen finished bluntly for her. "Three and a half years."
"How did you meet?" She paused for a moment before following up. "I'm sorry. I don't mean to pry."
"Think nothing of it, Viola," Helen replied. "Our parents were friends at one point, before we moved to Virginia. I was trying to track down a book that my mother had given to his father. Along the trail, I, obviously, ran into Aloysius. He explained about the burning of la Maison Rochenoire, the loss of that huge library, and sent me a copy from his own collection."
"A rare translation of Suetonius. He asked if I'd read The Twelve Caesars before, and when I told him that I hadn't, he insisted that I let him know what I thought. We exchanged a few more letters before the correspondence faded. I met him in person a few months later, at a silent auction during his cozy little stay in Quantico. The correspondence began again, growing flirtatious until we finally met again, in a night of passion a week after the auction."
"Oh, my," Viola murmured. "And your parents knew?"
Helen laughed. "There was no way in hell I would tell my parents. They didn't know him that well, as he'd been a boy the last time they'd seen him, and I wasn't even legal.
"In any case, three months of arguing and my broken heart ensued, about the 'nature of our relationship,' with me on one side, pushing for more, and him on the other, reluctant to begin such a relationship with someone so young. He left Virginia then, but I followed him to New York a few months later. In the end, my patience and persistence won out and we married two years later." She concluded her story with a small smile at Lady Maskelene.
Viola appeared awestruck "My, that is quite a story," she replied.
Helen nodded demurely, staring into the hearth. "I wonder if it was true." She lifted her eyes to Viola, who quickly hid a puzzled frown. "Not quite as romantic as the tale of your first meeting." Now Helen frowned. "Is that what this is about, Aloysius?
The apartment dissolved into nothingness, and Viola with it. Helen stood upon the surrounding blackness and stared with fiery eyes at her husband.
"Is what what this is about, Helen?" he inquired smoothly. Very few would have been able to detect the undercurrent of weariness in his voice.
"You're allowed to have a personal life again, Aloysius. You don't need my permission. You don't need to justify yourself to me. I'm dead."
"Not quite yet," the man replied softly, "not to me."
You have to make a choice, Aloysius. You can either really live your life, outside of here, or you can live inside your head.
"I quite prefer my head these days, actually."
Fine, but stop using me to justify your guilt.
"In case you'd care to notice, my dear, my guilt level has risen quite a bit in the past few days, and none of it has to do with you."
No, but you still cling to the guilt you had before you remembered the Event. It's familiar. It keeps you sane.
This is awfully anticlimactic, Aloysius.
"I know. There isn't much I can do about it."
You could read my letter.
"Now is not the time."