~ kittykittyhunter ~
Charlie Dalton is in a store for used books, reading a weathered tome. The pages have been damaged by water and emit noxious fumes. But Charlie doesn't care. This book, with its blue leather and gold lettering, is precious. It triggers his very best memories, and his very worst.
He's a recent university graduate. Gone are Charlie's rebellious days. Ever since his expulsion from Welton Academy, his actions have been dictated by his wealthy family, who were humiliated. Nuwanda? That's the past. After all, it's hard to maintain a society when you're alone.
Though... there's Todd. And Knox, possibly.
Todd Anderson, an unknown to the wider public, but a name in select literary circles. His first anthology was published a month ago and it's received a smattering of good reviews. Charlie's proud. Surrounded by shelves dedicated to Byron and Tennyson and Pope, he contemplates writing to Todd. They were friends, once.
The bell above the door jingles. A puffy man enters the store. He is ten years Charlie's senior, but his face suggests that he is much, much older. He greets the store owner cheerfully. They shake hands and delve into conversation.
Charlie Dalton doesn't eavesdrop. His own life is troubling enough; he doesn't wish to worry about others. But he hears a name, and it turns his head so that he's scrutinising the two men.
J Evans Pritchard.
The graduate closes FIVE CENTURIES OF VERSE. A smirk is tickling his face. He decides to listen closely.
"A phenomenal piece," blusters the customer. "I considered various classics – Blake, Milton, Burns – according to the scale. Astounding! Pritchard made an excellent contribution to our field, there's no doubt."
The man behind the counter nods. His glasses dance on his nose. "I agree," he declares. "I've applied the theory to some contemporary work – we'll be in our graves before the world receives a writer comparable to those you just mentioned. Take this lad, for example – my sister brought him to my attention... what was the name? Ah, yes. Anderson."
Charlie slides the book onto the shelf.
"Yes," continues the store owner, "awful. No soul at all! I couldn't make head or tail of what Anderson was trying to say. To be fair, he's only young –"
"That's no excuse," argues the other, "thanks to Keats."
Raising his voice, Charlie says, "If you're using Pritchard's essay, you won't get enjoy any poetry at all – let alone Todd's."
They turn. "May I help you?" ventures the bespectacled man.
Charlie steps forward. A tattoo is beating in his wrists, preparing him for war, preparing him for something – extraordinary. He has read Todd's anthology seven times. He remembers its sharp visions, like goldfish glinting under clear water.
"Let me recite," he begins, "a poem for you."
Deep, the wind blew from the hills,
Stirring the wax on the leaves.
The customer murmurs, "Why would leaves be waxy?"
For the first time in months, Charlie feels alive.
The figure of Death was drinking his fill;
I heard him, I heard him well –
He came to darken my cell.
"So the narrator is a prisoner?" The words are riddled with sarcasm.
Charlie is pacing. Energy is stretching inside him.
I could not be moved by shadows and stones,
Nor would I be moved by fear.
I should not be moved by vertical stars;
I raised my voice, so that he could hear –
Charlie chokes. The next stanza almost swallows him.
He must persist: for Todd's sake, for Keating's sake.
How all of our oaths, and all of our vows
Are meaningless now.
His hands are clenched.
Fear frames the listeners' eyes. They are being entertained by a spectacle. If either of them recognise 'the Dalton boy', it may be the end.
But he must persist.
We buried him deep, under the snow,
We circled his head with thorns.
We buried him deep, under the earth –
The corpse of the friend whom we mourn.
Charlie's fingers wrap around a bookcase.
Cold winter is coiling around his organs.
He died, he died
Though he was our pride.
I am not afraid of the days that shall pass
But that I am a coward inside.
Silence. Charlie straightens, blinking the wet gauze from his eyes.
"By Todd Anderson," answers Charlie. The room is brighter. "A poem called 'Night Dream'. You'll find it on the tenth page of his anthology."
He leaves. He'll return for the book another day – what he cares for, right now, is the moment. Friends have slipped from him. He's allowed his conviction and bravery to wither.