Warning: This work has been rated 18+ for mature content.
Melancholy, Death, Friendship
September 6th, 1782.
I stretch over and brush a lock of her hair from out of her eye. Patsy sits with me. I consider the violin. Patty might feel comfort. In the end of the decision I chose not to play. Holding her hand in mine, giving it a little squeeze, it is my sincere aspiration she might know I am dutifully by with our daughter. I can say with the most purest honesty, I cannot fathom- there is a piece of paper who Patsy has just tucked under my enclosed palm which also held my wife’s.
I wish not to acknowledge the document presently. I know not what course or intention Patsy wants to pursue, but I am the upmost aware of what the paper is. Patty and I, we read Laurence Sterne’s book, Tristram Shandy, quite frequently. Sterne’s writing is one of our favorites to read together. Patty had wrote, Time wastes too fast: every letter / I trace tells me with what rapidity life follows my pen. The days and hours I of it are flying over our heads like clouds of a windy day never to return . . . And when too frail, I finished for her, and every time I kiss thy hand to bid adieu, every absence which I follow it, are preludes to the eternal separation which we are shortly to make!
Patty barely moved. Her breathe slowed, her heartbeat, shallow. All this I know because I listened for the signs of a blossomed flower earlier. With great trepidation, I wish to prepare the foreboding affliction we shall soon enter into.
“Thomas.” I lean in close to hear her whisper. “Promise to never marry again, husband.”
The sound of her quiet voice, all I desired was to rob reality. “I solemnly promise never to marry again,” I vowed.
I hear a little squeak escape Patty’s lips. Patsy and I stand immediately. I release her hand, letting the note fall on top of her bosom. I lean in again. I listen for any signs of life. I listen, and listen. I carry on this practice for what seems as a lifetime ago.
“Papa,” I hear Patsy say.
I wake in a start in the library. Flailing my arms about, the sounds of stacked writings flutter in the air. Books made the distinct thumping echoes dropping to the floor below. I see my dearest daughter, true to her ambition and steadfastness . . . the recollection of what happened trigger further affliction. Patsy rushes forward, but I feel the darkness envelope my senses and faint in the library.
With the most obvious absence of another, I clutch the handwriting of my wife upon the 4 by 4 piece of paper. My left, I tightly hold locks of her braided hair which I stroke between my thumb and forefinger. I remember her hours before. She lay in our bedroom, her doting husband, my sister, others in attendance.
Looking at her hair, so violent a start erupted. I shut my eyes tight with my bottom lip trembling. Such great emotions, even if I were alone, or nay, not, I wailed in absolute anguish. It mattered not if anybody saw. I trudge over to the History section of the bookcases arranged by myself into historical chapters, and sniff. Ancient History, Modern History, American History, Fine Arts. . . “Read it. Read it. I must read this one.” A few others I drop to the floor. The distinctive, ‘thump’ greets my ears as I release a few more books. I make way to a portrait hung on our wall. It is her I see. I slump, burying my damp cheeks in my hands, sobbing. If a soul could know the grievance occurring within, again, it mattered not.
“My darling!” I wail. I stand and fling books behind a shoulder. All contained memories of reading wonderful literature together. I shall not be able to stand it I am to be reminded every waken moment. Tripping over an ankle, I manage to catch my balance thereby walking slowly to the curtains. I pull those off too. I peer around the room, searching for anything else which would remind me of Patty in the library.
My nerves, they are quite-
Ignoring her, I keep on, keeping on. Left, right, left right, left, right. Sometimes walking full distances from one side of the room where the curtains used to hang; there they be, a wrinkled, crumpled heap still on my – our – floor, and then, there are times so arduous, Patsy informs me when I come too, the bruises and bumps I feel are because I fainted.
Today, I am pacing. It is all I find to do in these long, miserably pointless days. When I stop the purposeful steps, I often gape at my palms. My eyes, they detect details I otherwise on any given moment or day, would have paid little thought about, but here they are: a freckle or a very dark, brown sunspot I noticed not before, show up anew. My palms, they shake, they shake for far too long and much. Any other day, I would have cause to call for alarm to this symptom, but I cared only in the manner if the shaking had increased or dissolved. Anxiety, so it is, so it must be, is creating panic.
“Papa, please,” I hear her beg.
I scuffle along and nudge a few balls of rolled up pieces of paper I made a few days before with my big toe.
She is in front now and thereby prohibiting any further movement in a reasonably symmetrical line. I try and sidestep her, but my daughter catches part of the front of my shirt and tugs it ever so slightly. “Papa, it has been days. Might it be acceptable asking a Negro bring in a basin of warm water to bathe in? Surely, hygiene must not go amiss.”
I stare into her face dumbly.
She puts an arm of mine over her shoulder and guides a most fatigued father over to the pallet brought in, filled with straw and furnished with an extra pillow. In addition, two pots were also brought in: one for urinating, the other for defecating. I stop walking with Patsy and release. I land hard on my backside. Burying my face in my hands, I hear the same racket as before. The pain is unbearable. No person can fundamentally or accurately describe these perfect wounds. It hurts, it hurts to an amount nobody could ever know this type of affliction, this wound to a grieving husband’s heart. It is as if there are razors ripping, and quite so, I am undeniably bleeding inside.
Patsy puts both her hands on the tops of trembling shoulders. I do nothing to show her acknowledgement of touch. Instead of letting a grieving husband who has lost every form of adored connection, who lost my lover, and let me be, I feel arms cocooning the upper half, pulling my body into her own. My arms are sandwiched in between us but to feel the heartbeat of my daughter, it brings fresh another open wound. Patsy, she does not persuade or speak vain words where they be wasted but listens to her credit, my cries.
Patsy, my dear, insisted. Here I be, in a tin basin of freshly poured water. My soiled clothing were taken and replaced with a freshly laundered, starched shirt. Whomever deemed it worthy in selecting black for a ditto suit of matching colors, they may plausibly earn a switch. Even the linen neckstock is black and so are the stockings. They lay out neatly on top of the pallet behind the basin. I have sat without so much as a single wring of the cloth. In fact, it sort of has descended to the bottom; the cloth no longer floats.
“Papa, should a Negro wash you? I would fetch a man if it pleases you.”
“I wish not, daughter,” I say.
“Shall I do it? I will wash your back and neck.”
I glace up from numbly inspecting toes. “As you wish,” I say by giving permission.
“What are your opinions about composing? Surely, you must miss writing, and certainly reading a book.”
Lifting my right arm up, Patsy dabs underneath, and then proceeds to do the exact with my other. I feel scrubs along my back and at its sides. Tilting my neck down so she might be able to properly scrub that as well, I consider her proposal, at the very least, about writing.
“How about once we finish here, I would be more than willing to bring to you a pen and inkwell. Also, I shall not forget the lap desk so you might be more comfortable.”
I grunt in response.
“What was that?”
I reach back, indicating to Patsy I am ready to clean the private areas, and other such co fangled limbs I suppose need addressed too. She places the cloth, and I also feel a bar of soap in my hand as well. Once satisfied, I tell her I am done. Soon, a heavy-weight wool cloth is put over my shoulders. Another I find tossed on top of my head, thus, blinding my vision, and also most likely the bottom half is completely soaked in the bath.
I trust my daughter would never look, so I do not bother announcing to cover her eyes so I can stand up and wrap one of the layers around my middle before stepping out.
“Patsy,” I say softly, tightening the wool squares around my waist. “I need, well, need.”
“To relieve,” I say and feel my cheeks grow warm, “my bowels.”
“Your hair needs grooming. And you need a shave.”
“Are you peeking?” I ask, alarmed.
“No, Papa. I’m stating the obvious.”
I peer around the library. Finally, I see her. True to Patsy’s word, she faces a wall in a corner, unable to witness the genitals of her father. Exhaling a breathe of relief, in those few seconds I momentarily forgot about emptiness, but, it came back once I knew I was not exposing myself to my daughter.
“Neither are dreadfully in need of action, except, well,” I cough. I have to cross my legs and hang on to the wool with my free, right hand. The other is holding the edge of the cloth up higher above my waist. Patsy looks in my direction and giggles at her poor father who is most certainly about to bust a gut if she does not walk a bit faster! “Close the door.” She does. Dropping the wools, I literally run to a pot, aim, and, my, that is mighty good, I say to myself. I give it a little shake, take note the pot is about half full, and my daughter shall not be responsible. That is why I have property. One of the slaves will deposit the urine and wash the pot to my absolute satisfaction. Reapplying the cloth snugly around my middle, I open the door and motion for Patsy to re-enter in with a finger.
“Will not you dress per chance?”
I walk and sit at the edge of the pallet.
I hear Patsy groan disapprovingly. “You are sitting on your clothes. They will wrinkle.”
“I might write a word or two,” I announce.
Patsy retrieves the lap desk set on the floor, and gets the ink and pen which were stationed on top of it. Once situated with the desk balanced upon my lap, I pick up the pen, dab the nib in the inkwell and then ponder a moment. Patsy, she decides to pull a chair and sit at the other desk which had stacked books until in another unblissful fit, I threw those too.
To the Memory of
Daughter of John Wayles;
Born October 19th, 1778, O.S.
January 1st, 1722;
Torn from him by death
I flip over the lap desk and conceal my face deep in the palms of my hands. Footsteps rush forward. I know them belonging to Patsy.
“You spilled the ink! It is all over!”
I hear only the sounds which override any, and they are my own. Fortunately, or unfortunately, as a person may view it, weeping stole the last bit of energy. I slowly lay my head to the pillow and shut my eyes. My ditto suit would need addressing the next day, for they are now wet, whenever I shall awake next.
. . . the midwife delivers the baby. Martha and I, we rejoice! At her bedside, I eagerly pick up the swaddled child. I grin from ear to ear. So blessed it is to Father another. Lucy Elizabeth, born on this day, May 8th! I look over to my wife, and there is a most ominous expression. She is not smiling, but her face, it is a light shade of blue. Crying out in fright, I pass off our baby to the midwife and rush forward. I hear a maniacal laugh behind. Looking to the midwife, she has sprouted two very large horns. She sports fangs as well. Our babe weeps frantically. Torn between tending to Martha and rushing to snatch away our child from this most treacherous demon, I hear my wife produce a gurgle. Quickly, I glance at her. There are bubbles forming near the corners of her mouth. I shout for help!
. . . For four months that she lingered I was never out of calling; when not at her bedside, I was writing in a small open room which opened immediately at the head of her bed. “Thomas,” she croaked. I rushed to her. “Thomas, the child, how is she fairing?” she asked weakly.
. . . “Thomas.” I prop myself and sit up in the library. There is the midwife, with those ghastly, black, pointed teeth, those enormous horns producing from either side of this thing’s skull. In its arms, there be our newborn daughter screaming. “Thomas, this little babe belongs not to you, or she. Lucy Elizabeth lives five months, I swear it.” I watch as if I am being hypnotized but also, an invisible force restrains any movement. In helpless horror, I watch a nail drag along my new daughter’s throat. “Say, good-bye, Thomas. To this one, and Martha. That same hideous laugh--
“Martha! Lucy!” I cry. My heart beats much too fast. “Where is Martha? Where is Lucy?”
The dream world slowly dissipates. Coming to my full senses, I realize I am in the library, laying on the pallet and the clothing earlier which sure as so, are a wrinkled mess underneath, just as my daughter predicted. The two square pieces of wool I used for drying after the bath, I shiver a bit. At some point, I decided to discard them. This meant I am nude, in my library. Thank God, it is quite dark and the moon not full. I hear not any indication about Patsy hearing my outburst. Reaching for the shirt, I slip it on. At the very least, I shall not embarrass her in the morning. I lean to the side and pull a blanket I had discarded also. The shirt feels clammy and chilled. Trying to ignore the sensation, I attempt to sleep.
It is afternoon or quite possibly a little later. Today, I wear an unbleached, flax, linen coat, with a smart pair of breeches and a waistcoat to match. It has been the first time where I mustered the strength to dress. Of course, without Patsy’s insistence, I very well could be in an uncomfortable, clammy shirt from the night before. Patsy also insists I try and read some. I have not. There are eight or so thoughts pin balling. In the library, still I pace. I cannot allow a stationary, quiet moment. That is when I am vulnerable. Too often have I wept. Too often, I might have scared poor Patsy. I must find a solution in overcoming the grief. But, dear God, it is so hard! So very hard!
At the desk with the chair pulled up to the edge, I have stared at the blank sheets of paper for quite a bit of time. Patsy suggested I attempt, again, to write. So here I am, staring blankly at pages of nothing extraordinary. Perhaps I should compose whatever may come to mind, and not think too, too much about details. This idea I like, and so, I begin.
The melancholiest affliction I have received---
I crumple the paper and toss it aside.
Such an affliction which rivals the heart strings, should you know I am in despair over the loss of Martha, the love of my life, and mother to my darling daughters---
I crumple this as well into a ball, and drop it.
Tapping my bottom lip with a pen, I consider a new approach. Quite possibly this new approach could suffice. I am thinking far too much composing a piece duly acceptable to Mister Adams.
When I am not silently howling to God, I think about Martha. September 6th marked the day when I slipped into the bowls of the beast. I sleep not. Early mornings before the damn birds chirp, there I be, wide awake. I do a fair amount of shuffling and tripping over feet as well as bumping into objects askew on the floor. I find myself obsessively checking shaking hands.
The pain is unbearable, so unbearable in fact, there is not a singular word to describe such an abomination of guilt. I try so very much not to accidently burst into tears in front of Patsy. More often than not, I fail in privacy. I double over in the purest grief unimaginable, clench my stomach and sob for hours. With every ounce of energy, I want to die. What I had always searched for, affection and fondness from a woman, a best friend, was stripped from my fingertips, and I am to blame for far too much intimacy, far too many pregnancies. They weakened her poor body, and I am to blame for it was I who insisted replacing children who were never to grow and experience life. Make no mistake, I do enjoy my alone time but I was never prepared to be brutally hurt. Completely lonesome. Now, when I am alone, I want to see my dear wife. When I am with Patsy, I want to disappear. My life is a death sentence. I am in total despair. These voices have manifested into several harrowing demons whom delight crushing the remaining stability remaining.
Yes, I considered cutting little slices into an arm, nothing too extraordinary and quite close to it too, by acting on the compulsion. Anything to distract this internal pain would be a blessing and privilege. In the end, I have not carved up flesh. It is not in me enough to bleed like a red pool of filth. My ‘filth’ needs to remain sutured. The outside world could not bear witnessing internal sorrow prolifically spawning.
I read over what has been written. I hear the door squeak open and then shut. It is Patsy, this I am certain, because not a soul has dared entered unless need be. For this decision, I am eternally grateful in being allowed to mourn.
“Have you written anything worthwhile?” she asks.
“Depends of the definition of, ‘worthwhile.’”
I hear Patsy walk towards where I am, studying the written page curiously.
“Oh, you did compose something. May I read it?”
My answer to her is I smear the page with my left hand by dragging it across. Patsy hands me a rag, I suppose, from a pocket of her petticoat. I snatch it, and wipe off as much ink as possible off my hand. Patsy leans over the desk and the little vixen attempts to read anyway. In response, I cover my arms inches above the sheet of paper so she would not be able to read.
“Papa,” she groans. “I want to read it.”
“Because child, it is not appropriate for anyone to do so.”
“Well, not a summery?”
“No, never a summery, or otherwise.”
“Why not?” Patsy groans again.
“Do you trust your old, aging, father?”
She blinks at such a question. “Why yes, of course.”
“Then you should respect his secrets, and trust there are explicit thoughts and feelings I cannot bear to tell my daughter especially. The truths would hurt.”
“Yes, well, I am quite tired. I shall attempt a nap.” I get up, tuck the chair in under the desk neatly, and trudge to the pallet. “I would like to undress, if you would do your old father the basic decency of leaving, daughter.”
“Sleep well, Papa.” When the door is closed behind her, I undress into near nudeness. All I have on for garments is under breeches, no shirt. Had a person barged in, that person would receive a most mortifying, to myself mostly, a full view of a penis, for there is not a shirt tucked inside, concealing my genitals.
Once convinced I am indeed alone, I pull out the chair and sit at the desk, in under breeches. I feel the tip of the head poking out but I ignore my penis, not bothering to tuck it back in. Re-inking the nib, I start a fresh note.
Everything triggers emotion. Literature, those forsaken curtains still on the floor, the portrait of Martha; I have not the ability or desire to hide her beautiful face. I dread going to sleep because it never comes. The early mornings are awful. When I lye in bed, I do more thinking. Thinking about hanging myself. Except for my family, I wonder if people care if I live or die. I have not a friend, they only tolerate my presence but they wish I dissolved. I am unappreciated, despised. The ugliness is pure. I feel worthless. Some would agree, a broken bone heals but emotional wounds are forever.
Leaving the desk and not bothering sliding the chair in, I make my way to the pallet. Pulling a few layers up to my shoulders, I shut my eyes. Sleep arrives quickly. The next day, I find the paper I penned about triggers and some such other matters, and rip it in the tiniest of pieces. Studying the library, it is a disaster. I shall sweep and tidy the disorder and chaos later, I promise.
There is a noose. My neck is in it. The rope, I am not certain where it came from. I do know, it is tied securely to Martha’s and I’s bed post. Flick of the wrist. Flick of the wrist, and the knot will tighten to its maximum. I do not comprehend how any such flicking of any such wrist would, could- I reach up, slide the knot down. I am chocking but do not a damn thing to stop the uncomfortableness. Soon, soon, the pain will die. Soon.
“Ah!” I screech. I sit up groggily. Another dreadful, vivid dream.
Quick flick of the wrist and it is over. Quick flick of the wrist and it is over. What does this mean? Flicking of the wrist certainly does not constitute coherency! I cannot stop it, these repetitive thoughts. Quick flick of the wrist, and my life is over? But how? And why?
I will tell you why. I will tell you exactly why, Thomas!
Shall I open, open myself? Open wholly to writing on paper? These troubling, repetitive, thoughts I kept hidden?
The top of the quill taps the bottom of my chin. I consider the prospect of going down that arduous, black hole. A void I have too long avoided.
She is gone. I no longer can make love to, or feel her love on my own body. No longer will I be able to touch. I want to touch! I so desperately do. In every ounce of my being, I want to feel Martha’s lips against my own. I want to feel her breasts and squish them. I want to feel that tingle of delicate sensations and sentiment of ecstasy my wife created during innermost lovemaking. Sniff her clove pomade, her favorite scent.. I want to lay my head upon her chest, and listen, feel the thump of her heartbeat. I miss her, I need her. I want to lay my head against her shoulder while we share a pitcher of sweet lemon water on a particularly warm, summer evening. She quietly reads, my chin leaning against hers for support while I also quietly observe the scenery.
I so desperately want to play the violin for her, the very instrument which won her over; she selected me from her other suitors. She selected me. Me.
There are tears beginning to well up in the corners of my eyes. It aches so much inside, so very much.
Patsy has been a darling, keeping by my every beckon wake and call, more or less. Some nights I stifle the cries which have been moderately successful. Many of the nights I weep as soundlessly as truly possible. I sincerely do not want a person to know I am truly suffering a living death. That is what is: a living death. I am dead, but I am also quite alive. Patsy, I cannot fathom a reason in why my daughter has, Patsy cannot love her dear father. I am no use, but a burden.
I jump in my seat. When did she come in? More importantly, when did the door open?
“Close the door. No one is allowed in, unless absolutely necessary,” I say.
“I brought you things.” I glace up from the page and right away I know the objects she is carrying. “I have a mirror too. And a comb.”
I sigh. “Give them,” I say, holding out my hand.
Patsy sets them on the desk. I pick up the shaving soap, dip the bar in a cup of water Patsy has also provided, and lather up. When ready, I tell her to hold up the mirror for shaving away a full reddish, brown beard, speckled with a few white whiskers, because I am quite old.
“Keep it steady. No, I said steady. Will you stop wobbling the mirror to and fro? Patsy! Over here, not there. Closer, closer, a bit closer. Stop! Yes, the mirror is close enough, now hold it stationary. That is not stationary,” I grumble. “Patsy! Are you listening, child?”
All patience exhausted itself, and with little sanity remaining, I flip the library’s desk. And then I turn around and side-throw the chair. A wooden leg cracks and breaks off of it. Now, I am without a favorite chair, writing implements, and have to re-clean the Godforsaken room.
“Papa.” Her face is flushed and her own lip trembles.
“Get out,” I growl. “Go!”
Patsy whimpers, and closes the door softly. I angrily search this miserable tomb. Decidingly so, I fetch scraps of paper and wipe clean the shaving soap upon my face, then open the door, toss them out, and then close it. I leave the desk as is, and crawl into bed for another worthless nights of either dreaded, frightening dreams, or another sleepless night of sleep or both.
The following day, there is a knock. I stand up from the pallet and make way to the door. There is a bundle of clothing, an inkwell freshly refilled, a quill, stacks of blank paper and a folded note inside a copper cup. All these are set on top of an unbroken chair. Curious, I look in the hallway, but there is not but a single soul to be found. The clothing, it appears I will be wearing a red, silk coat and matching breeches with a white, double-breasted waistcoat. I see no stockings or some sort of neck covering, but I do notice I am to wear a ruffled shirt along the neck and sleeves. Lifting the desk upright, I first set the pen, paper and inkwell on it. After, I fetch the bundle and lay them out neatly across the pallet. I snatch the note and place the cup in a corner of the room.
I left with you clothing I chose. You have not worn stockings much, nor a neckcloth or stock, so I did not bring any. There is a replacement chair, and writing tools.
Papa, everything triggers everything.
“An astute child, I have.” Drumming fingers upon the desk, I consider what to do. I locate a chamber stick with a candle already in it. Fortunately, I did not lose the matchsticks. Lighting the candle, I walk to the desk and set the chamber stick on top. I retrieve the cup and red sealing wax I keep in a drawer under the desk. Grabbing a piece of paper, I dip the nib and compose a letter to Patsy.
My Dear Patsy,
The clothing you have chosen is an acceptable choice and appreciative. I will be dressed today, dear one. I do not know why you saw fit negating at the very least stockings. It is true your ‘Papa’ has been moping about in a visual of very hairy legs but please do me a favor and not tell. It is not proper for a gentleman. I would also ask, please bring to me, my shaving kit and mirror so I may finish. I am sure of it, I appear horrendous. The comb also, bring that as well.
I expect you are quite furious. This I would not doubt or blame if true. Remember, I am your father. I am in a state of unfathomable grief, a most horrid affliction, and though it may not seem it, I am progressing; coming out of a blackened world. If not for you, dear, your immeasurable persistence and insistence, I know I may not have bothered to keep dressed, all ‘cept for a shirt, bathed routinely as of now, nor would I have retaken up the pen so readily, composing when I feel compelled to do so. All this, you have done, and at no cost or asking for favors by you. Please forgive a grieving husband, and father.
I am, dear Patsy, yours sincerely and affectionately,
Setting the cup over the flame, I drop a stick of sealing wax in it. Once the ink is dry, I fold the paper in half, stamp TJ with the melted wax, and then drop the letter vertical in the cup. Opening the door, I put it just outside the entrance, and close.
It is quite late. The sun has long left and it is especially dark in here. I am sitting up in bed, thinking about Patsy’s words. Everything triggers everything. I have not heard so much as a cough. I even checked a few times to see if the seal had been broken. It has not, and the letter appears to not been meddled with inside the cup. I wrote that letter to her hours before. But, everything triggers everything. Indeed daughter, indeed.
What was that? I listen intently. There it is again. I swing my legs out and press an ear against the door. “Who is it?” I ask gruffly.
I swing open the door, lift her into my arms and hug and kiss each cheek. “You are in your bed gown, but still awake. It is late, is it not?” I ask with her in my arms.
I put her down and notice something in her hand. “What is that?” I ask, pointing to the mystery object she carries.
“You finally read it.”
“Of course. May I, may I come in?”
“I am in only breeches, and an untucked shirt, the ruffled one you selected.”
“Oh, Papa, I have seen much worse.”
That made me smile. “Well, child of mine, why are you up and not sleeping?”
She sprints forward, nearly causing me to fall over backwards on my bottom. Her little arms embrace my hips tightly. I squat and gently push my daughter back. I imagine her grinning in the dark. Rubbing both the sides of her arms up and down, hoping to sooth her, I lean in and whisper in an ear, “I love you. Forgive a heartbroken father?”
Patsy answers by shoving my arms away and again she almost knocks me backwards but this time, she is able to squeeze my stomach. It takes me a few moments. I am in the upmost honestly, taken aback by my daughter’s reaction. I had had not anticipated such tender forgiveness. I expected she read the letter, and then carry on with her normal routines of reading French, exercise herself in music, dance, read English and write before bedtime. Eventually, I reciprocate her warm hug, kiss the top of her bonnet, and then drape my chin lovingly over Patsy’s left shoulder.
“Papa, are you crying again?” the muffled question asks.
“Out of gratefulness,” I mumble.
“When will you stop crying do you think?”
“Lord knows, child. Bedtime.” I scoot her out and she closes the door behind her.
Everything triggers everything. These are my last thoughts, and then I doze off.
I am alone. My dear daughter had to see to a matter about a slave who apparently fell unconscious in the field during earliest hours of the morning. Thoughts and memories tear away the sutures of these fresh wounds. I cried softly until daylight shone. These many, many thoughts wish not leave me in peace.
Does Patty blame me because I showed not enough awareness, observations about her illness? Had I not showed enough tenderness? Not enough attentiveness between Patty and my important work?
Why must this world see fit to inflict cruelties?
If my darling lover saw me presently, what would she have said?
Grant me strength, oh, Lord!
Who would in their right mind, who would enjoy being around a fool. Around a fool, a shell of a man who’s path has been replaced with shadows. Bleak shadows. Patsy stays because it is her duty to do so; I am her father, but, I am but a burden.
Everything triggers everything.
“Papa!” Patsy enters and shuts the door. “Papa, all is well.”
“Departed this Earth. Died of exhaustion they presume.”
“A man. The identity is unknown. He is being carried away as we speak. Papa.”
“Yes, child? What is it?”
“Read to me.”
I had to smile a little. A clever, little vixen my daughter is. She knows full well I cannot object. I read stories to all my children before they learnt how themselves. So fond of certain memories, reading aloud to Patsy especially was a delightful pastime.
“Go. Select one.”
Patsy invited me to the vacant spot next to her on the pallet. “Well, that did not take long to choose,” I say. “Which selection of literature have you chosen?” I ask, sitting to her left.
She plops the book in my lap. I recognize it immediately. It was Patty’s and I’s favorite read. Laurence Sterne’s, Tristram Shandy. I look up, staring at her.
“Read,” she commanded.
“I do not think I can re-“
Patsy purposefully drops a small 4 by 4 note, and the locks of my wife’s hair on top of the cover. “Where did, how did you know where to,” I sputter. “Find those?”
“When Aunt Carr and others carried away your body when you first fainted, they put you in the library. Do you not remember clipping a lock? You had such a grip on Mama’s lock of hair and her’s and your’s writing scribbled on this very piece of paper. I kept them safe, for us.
“Yes, for us. She was my mother. I miss her as dearly as you. But I have chosen to bury those feelings deep.”
I nod, and then glance at the cover. A few seconds pass. “From the beginning?”
I read to her, Tristram Shandy, hours on end, when at last, nature said I should lay down. Obliged to agree, I closed the book and put it gently in Patsy’s lap. “I shall attempt to catch a few winks.”
“I have something else.”
“I have saved this also. The day when you tried writing, but created an inky mess all over the floor instead, this somehow survived.”
“Oh? What might it be, daughter?”
Patsy reaches inside her petticoat and opens a paper folded in half. I stare, letting my vision blur. I know exactly what it is.
“Please save Mama’s epitaph. I know not what else might have been written but I loved her also.”
I lean over to her right and hug her, and I hugged her good and long. And I did not shed tears. True, to her patience and fortitude, she has stayed close. How I ever desired to end my life with the solution of hanging in mind, the blackness I so readily see night and day, she had had been suffering secretly right along with me.
“Child, how long has seclusion been inside the library?”
“Three weeks, tomorrow,” she deadpanned.
“I see. Perhaps I should go on horseback. Would you do the honor of accompanying me?”
“Yes!” she shouted excitingly.
When at last I left the room, I rode out, and from that time on horseback I rambled about the least frequented roads and just as often through the woods. Patsy was my constant companion, a solitary witness to many a violent outburst of grief.