Many thanks to you, gentle readers, for your enthusiasm and support. My thoughts surrounding Sleepy Hollow have been frisky lately, as some of you know, and I couldn't leave Ichabod out. Too soon for Abbie and Ichabod - although for sensational groundwork on the pairing, among other wonderful reasons, read CreepingMuse's She and He - but he does have an excellent memory.
The class of 1952
Not a Crane among them.
Ichabod works by candlelight in the archive, surrounded by stacks of yearbooks and compilations of local newspapers. He stares at a page of the Sleepy Hollow High School Yearbook, 1952: Gerald Jacobsen, Barbara Johnson, Michael Judah….
Faces all look alike eventually. Eyes in shades graded from light to dark; skin also. Their features converge: cheeks more or less angular, noses larger or smaller, smiles more or less generous, or no smiles at all. Hair grows out of heads in myriad textures, gathered or left loose. Each one blurs into the next. No face is truly distinct.
What could I realistically expect to recognize? Even an eidetic memory requires first an image to recall. If I could see his face, or the face of his own son, I might trace a resemblance… but photographic images date only to the late 19th century, already at least four generations past my son's birth. The son whose name I have never heard.
It is cruelty supreme to know of his existence but nothing more. I am consumed by this deepening blank, fed by Katrina's betrayal. When I am at my most charitable, I imagine she kept the truth from me to protect someone – the child perhaps, or herself. But I find that two lies of omission are too much to bear.
Whatever the proposed justification, I cannot abide her betrayal. She well knew how desperately I longed for a child, more even than she. It was I who daydreamed of raising a son at my knee, teaching him to read, to write, to study the wisdom of the ages, and also to wield a sword, a pistol. I longed to look into his eyes, the strange echo of hers and mine together, and try to fathom the exquisite uniqueness of his soul. I longed to love him with such powerful devotion that my heart would threaten to break in twain at the very sight of him. I longed to demonstrate devotion like my father's.
I would have embraced the marvel of a girl with equal delight. I imagined our daughter wild and eager, tall and strong and passionate. I imagined her a leader among her peers, strengthened by our studies, our regular debates of Greek philosophy. As capable and headstrong as Katrina. As myself.
But it was no time for fostering a legacy. When war comes, it stops clocks. It halts the future, even as the pulse of day races.
This anguish – not knowing the name of my only son – it is not to be borne!
Not for the first time, Ichabod stifles his impulse to throw these old books across the room.
How does one seek one's descendants without the benefit of a name?
Ah, if only I could reach back into time, into the page of this book…. Barbara Johnson, you appear intelligent. Honor roll, distinguished service. Tell me Miss Johnson, do you recognize anything in my face? Did you know a boy with a strong, narrow jaw, eyes burning with intensity of purpose? A hawk beak of a nose perhaps, or thick hair like Katrina's, burnished auburn in the sunlight? Or a girl, taller than most, with a wise expression and a raised eyebrow? Lips soft and pale like Katrina's, a button nose, eyes gentle and warm? Was there a girl like this?
Perhaps – it is too much to wish for - an entire family, generation upon generation of men and women. Devoted to service – a point of pride and integrity, passed from parent to child. Did they inhabit an old estate, near the center of town, as Katrina and I would have chosen in more peaceful times? Were they known and respected? Did they serve those in need, found a school, perhaps the very one that published this book of faces?
No, I have nothing without a name. His name is the entrance into this genealogical labyrinth. I must speak with Katrina.
He swallows the last of the rum and sets the yearbook on the top of the nearest pile. Further research will certainly be fruitless. He shrugs his coat onto his shoulders and heads out into the night, toward the cabin. In the meditative repetition of walking his mind turns to Katrina. It wanders, unbound, to the last time.
He had orders to lead several men at dawn the next morning, so he joined their camp at midday to assist them in their preparations. Now past midnight, the men were asleep; snores and coughs came from inside tents. Ichabod sat at a fire that had long since gone cold, staring at ash that once was flame. What was in his mind he can't now remember; perhaps he was too weary to sleep.
Katrina appeared to him like a ghost, wafting like mist through the campsite, under a hooded cloak. Faceless. When he reached for his pistol she pulled her hood away, revealing herself. He feared for her safety in the midst of war but the peril was nothing new to her. She was as brave as any revolutionary. She took him by the wrist and led him into the dark wood.
He asked her in a raspy whisper what she was doing. He asked her what was so important it was more crucial than her safety. She didn't answer; it didn't matter. He would have followed her directly into the deepest ocean, were she to lead him there.
She found a mossy boulder nearly the height of a chair and led him to sit. In the absence of answers he had grown silent and, truth be told, a touch petulant. She leaned toward him, threading his long hair back from his face. Her hands were cold and dry but her expression was as warm as an embrace, thawing his icy mood. "Ichabod," she whispered, "please forgive me."
In the moment, he had assumed she referred to this midnight incursion.
"Katrina, why -" he began, but she stopped his words with a kiss. Her soft lips gathered up his breath, his surprise, even his grin. When she slid her fingers into his hair, tugging his head back, he answered her with a strengthening grip around her waist, pulling her down against him. His desire swelled, overwhelming reason in a familiar cacophony. With long fingers he found the hem of her dress, then her boot. He traced the leather seam up to her calf and then ventured higher, gasping to feel bare skin.
She guided his hand further, along the warmth of her thigh to the promise of much more. "Katrina," he breathed against her lips.
"Am I forgiven?" she whispered back.
Her fingers slipped along the front of his coat, leaving the buttons fastened, until they reached his trousers. She tugged at the buttons there until she could finally release him. Their communion was immediate, intoxicating. Such utter sweetness, such profound perfection. She was generous, fervent as she opened herself to him. Her strength stirred him, as her hair tumbled in thick curls down onto his face. How could he deserve such good fortune?
Their unions were often sweet, but this one was so devastatingly intimate that he felt she invited him into her very soul. He resisted conclusion as long as he could, sensitive to her every shift in rhythm or posture; to him, the glory of watching her crest her wave was even more sublime than his own satisfaction. But the strident tenor of the war, the strain of the night before deployment, and the surprising gift of these stolen moments – these colluded to overtake him.
Their spiral rose until his bliss was impossible to contain. When his wave subsided, she kissed him slowly, a serene smile eventually stealing her lips from his.
Was she already with child when she drew him into the forest? Or did they conceive the boy there, in the dark shadow of pine wood?
He pinches himself through the thin fabric of his shirt; these memories are no help. And the patina of remembered desire leaves him feeling sick at heart.