The Vortex – Part II
"I will not," Holmes says as an answer to my asking him if he would attend my wedding. His face is turned away from me and towards the window, so that he is in fact talking to the window pane, and the tone of his voice is cool, somewhat indifferent, as if he was merely making a passing remark. I cannot discern his features, yet I do see his jaw muscles working, and I immediately recognize that I have made a mistake of some sort. But of course! how could I ever dream of inviting my best friend to such an occasion, while I should be well aware of his adversity to any kinds of social gatherings.
I am about to say something close to an apology when Holmes turns to face me, and upon seeing his face I fall silent. His whole demeanour gives me an idea about how much he is fighting to control himself, yet the strain shows in the rigidity of his expression, and even if all this escaped me, I would still recognize the shine in his eyes. I wince inwardly, trying to compose myself adequately, if only to prevent both of us from behaving childishly now. There is no need for that kind of folly. I am getting married, and I would have liked to see my best friend rejoice for my sake, but instead I have to realize that he is on the verge of crying, which obliges me to comfort him.
"Now, now," I say. "This does certainly not infringe our friendship, old chap, nor will I refrain from meeting you." I feel strangely compelled to expatiate on the necessity of a man in my age to finally settle down, have a family, in other words to become sober and live up to the traditions, but at the same time all this is stuck in my throat, and instead of explaining my reasons to him, I once more fall silent.
When he hears my words, even though they are meant to cheer him up, Holmes' features merely harden, his hands drop, and he is standing in front of me like a young boy who has just lost his favourite puppy and tries not to show his despair. In spite of his aquiline features and the still keen expression of his never resting eyes, he now looks utterly lost and hurt, and I have to fight back the impulse to hug him.
Of course, I could do nothing of the sort. Such an overly emotional display would be indecent and inadequate, and besides, he would probably shove me away. Hence, instead of comforting him, I merely remain standing in front of him, looking up at his mask-like face. There is a single tear rolling down his cheek, and his lower lip starts trembling, ever so softly, and still none of us speak a word. I wonder what on earth could shake him so, while secretly the leanings of my heart know what is going on, and what is more, they have known all the time.
"Holmes, I…" I start again, and once again I am at a lack of words. Now, my friend sways, while his face still shows no signs of emotion, apart from this one tear that has made its way down to his softly trembling chin. Feeling completely at a loss, all I can do is extend my hand towards him to say good-bye. I am not taken by surprise that he declines to accept it and instead turns away to look out the window once more.
"Well then," I hear myself saying. "I will call… afterwards." I walk to the door, where I stop and turn to look at my friend's back one more time.
"All the best," he suddenly utters, without turning towards me. "Good-bye." The words sound as if they are being forced out, but at least I hear his voice, and apart from a certain strain it sounds reasonably firm. It is more than I would ask for, being also aware of his aversion against marriage in general.
"Thank you, good-bye," I reply, and linger for another moment, but when he does not change his position, I take my hat from the hat stand, leave the room and silently close the door behind me. I go down the stairs more slowly than I need to, and I realize that a part of me is still hoping for Holmes to accompany me to the door, as a minimum, but there is no sound emerging from his room, and so I leave the house behind me. I have a numb feeling in my guts, strangely gnawing, but in spite of my awareness where it really derives from, I put it down to my general apprehension.
One day later, I am walking down the aisle to meet my wonderful wife-to-be. The church is full of merry folk, both of us having a remarkably large family, even though I have not seen most of my lot for the better part of my life. The organ is humming, but it can hardly drown the sound of my own heart beating in my throat and my blood rushing in my ears as if it is going to make my head burst. Mary turns towards me, and she is looking so indescribably beautiful, I can make out her delicate features under the thin white veil, and once more I feel that I could not have found a more lovely woman on earth. I am entirely grateful to her that she chose me, of all men, to be granted the right to love her.
For a precious moment, our fingers touch, and I feel the familiar bolt of heat inside of me, then Mary additionally warms me with her smile, and we both turn towards the altar. And then, something strange happens to me. While the priest is talking, I feel an inexplicable sadness come over me, from whence I cannot tell, and instead of listening to the holy words, I feel that I am exposed to an uncontrollable upsurge of memories.
Holmes… touching my hand ever so softly, here and there, the more I think of it, the more intense do the memories get, and then I see his eyes, the way he would look at me, his smile, and I hear his voice, not the words alone, but the way he would put them, the things he would tell me without telling me. And I suddenly realize what an utter fool I have been.
Great God! What am I doing? What am I doing here, in this holy place, listening to the sacrament of matrimony, declaring in my one and only love, while I should have known all the time what my real true love is. My mind is racing, my vision blurring, but I cannot turn back now, there is no way out, and I look up at the priest through a veil of tears. Does he know what I am thinking? I try to utter the words that I everyone expects me to utter, but there is no sound coming from my lips. For a moment, I fear that the priest could read my thoughts, but then he smiles benevolently, and when I feel Mary's hand on my arm, pressing it reassuringly, I realize that they both think I am choked with emotion.
I have to pull it through now. I must. I owe it not only to my sweet Mary, but also to all that I have been living by, all that I am proud of: traditions, honour, integrity. One more time, I think of Holmes, and I force myself to think of the reasons why I could not possibly go the other way: his direction. That way lies chaos, that way lies madness even. Finally, I understand why I have to take this important step, whatever the cost might be. It is the only way I can stay in contact with my beloved friend, just because there has to be one of us who is not allowed to run wild, and that one am I, and Mary will be my anchor.
Drawing a deep breath, I raise my face towards the priest once more, and this time I manage to smile. My voice is loud and firm now. "I do."