Consider the Lilies

Prologue

When, very rarely, Malcolm dreams, it is his own house in which his nocturnal visions place him. He strives for, and generally achieves dreamless slumber. His is a life without dreams, for they are solace for under-achievers, those whose lives are troubled and incomplete. Malcolm believes he has attained almost absolute mastery of his life. Yet he has begun to believe that any man has, within himself, the potential for a misery quite independent of the facts of his existence. His dreams do not permit him to escape the source of this misery, neither do they clarify his thoughts.

At times he feels an inexplicable grief, a hard knot in his chest, a knot that won't unfurl. It is not for the loss of his recently deceased father, this grief, but for the turmoil that lies ahead, the turmoil he himself set in motion. The weight of responsibility for two women and three children has fallen on his shoulders. Perhaps his judgment is faulty, at present; perhaps his father's death has unmanned him in ways he can't altogether grasp.

"You as much as killed your father." chided the voice in his mind. It was very much like Olivia's voice, but she had never said those words to him, though she'd expostulated with him at length on his recent conduct, all in terms of blame.

"You're a hateful person, Malcolm. You'll never be a happy man after this. I pity you." said the woman who was his mate, and supposed to be his ally, offering support.

Fearing her judgments would be proven true, and to stop her vicious outpouring of words, he ordered her away, cursing her, once she vacated the trophy room, leaving him feeling as powerless as the dead animals on the walls.

If, for once, she had turned and intuited what he needed, if she'd come to him and encircled him with her arms, he might have been freed from a few of his demons. The knots of loneliness and fear might have begun to unravel, allowing him to shelter in the solid goodness and certainty that he knew to be his wife's abiding and true qualities.

She never turned back as she left the room, closing him in with his rage, disowning any care she had for him, forgetting him, he thought, as he would soon after forget that she wasn't to blame for his discontent.

He had never felt that his marriage was so near to being broken, or that he had endangered it, until that moment of extreme carelessness, when he realized that there are things one doesn't say, no matter the circumstance. But he had said them, and she had said them, each swept along by a common ferocious wave of anger.

As she stormed away, he worried that Olivia might persuade Alicia to seek the help of clergy or police. She and Alicia seemed inseparable; Alicia leaned on her so, in the weeks following the funeral. But no, Olivia would keep his secrets, of that he was certain, for she was loyal, in her way.

He knew he should summon her back to his side, that had he been another man, he would not allow a rift to grow. But allowing oneself to be forgiven requires courage. Asking for forgiveness, showing need and weakness, then facing her denial or rejection, would be as difficult as picking up one of his guns and turning it upon himself.

Malcolm decanted a brandy, and felt it burn a path to his troubled core. It was his father's favorite drink, and Malcolm relished its fiery bitterness, hoping to quench his unease. He switched on his desk lamp and stalked to a window, shoving aside the velvet curtain to peer mutinously out into the pitch darkness. He did not truly know what he believed, and he wondered if his father now knew all. In spirit, did Garland see the hearts and minds of those still in the flesh? Was he now apprised of all the dark feelings harbored by his son?

Olivia had predicted that Malcolm would never be happy, but had he ever known that entrancing state, for more than brief, passing moments? He was suffering. Yet he couldn't admit it. So artificial was the current relation between them that, rather than break down in her presence, rather than let her see his struggle, he insisted upon solitude.

He was her husband; she possessed the habit of him, the prerogative of his name, the occupancy of his house. They were bound by association, convenience, appearances, shared possessions. At night he would come home to her, and he would sleep in his room down the hall, and sometimes, at his convenience, he would visit hers. She would continue to administer his household, rear his children. Yet such things gave her no command over his mind or his heart.

For what seemed long months, she could not bring herself to speak to him unless she had to play a part, due to the presence of a servant, or on account of the boys, who must be shielded.

Malcolm, emulating his grandfather Lemuel Foxworth's character, rather than Garland's, had made even less parental effort than usual with Mal and Joel, and not effort enough to satisfy Olivia. It was she who had to break the news of their grandfather's sudden death to the boys, and cope with their confusion and grief.

Now, in the aftermath of this, in the silence, he swept aside all the justifications he created for himself; they all could be distilled down to one-Alicia. Obsession with her had seemed to derail much that was good, or should have been good in his life. As it happened, he had not recognized the slow progression into aggression into which his own musings had led him, violence tinged with a desperate wish to excise his fixation. He tries to think back, to pinpoint just when it started-when he had started to lose control of everything...