Chris Beausang – Aspic

oa_asve9Chris Beausang was born, and continues to live, in Dublin. He is a PhD student in NUI Maynooth carrying out research on modernist aesthetics and its resurgence within the novels of contemporary authors Anne Enright, Will Self and Eimear McBride. He has written dissertations on Roddy Doyle and Samuel Beckett. He is currently working on his first novel, an excerpt from which has been published in Gorse. He has also had short fiction published in The City Quill and The Behemyth.


Aspic

The sun rises, and extends its light over the green stone set in its grey sea. Over the vales, appearing silken from a height. Over the roads, set in the patchwork landscape like threads parting the compliant fields, bounded by hedgerows that trace the roadsides’ gentle vectors, as if their vires were wound in collaboration. Over all this, the sun moves, like the coverlet of some fabled saint. In this field, the light pools steady, at perhaps too idle a tread to descry immediately. But were we to take the long view, if we took its progress from first tentative, and then robustly breaching dawn, from paltry dapples to indisputable and annihilative light, we would see the change, from what brings with it first, tiny shadows cast among the shafts of shallow leaves of grass, to the beams which penetrate the hawthorn — now, yes, only in fine, hollow reeds, but these will soon condense into substantiality, until the field is brimming with light, until it is fat with it. This day is a new one. It has not fallen out before. In this field in East Cork, it is the year 2016. Mark this information well; I emphasise it for a reason.
On this bed of land, there stands a stately house. We see two of its four occupants now, Marie and Geoff FitzMaurice. They have postponed waking some four, five times for a number of hours and rather than again turning from that easy border, they now lie to face one another, everything in their gaze appearing, if not renewed, at least worth examining further in the tenor of this day’s light, which sputters into the room through a crease in the curtains, concave and unfinished.
Events here are to continue as such for some time, so we will depart them a moment, in favour of Matthew de Renzy, who has risen early, and sits at desk in the room in which he spent the night, using the morning’s hours to work on a memoir of his time spent in London. The chapter he drafts relates a story which was conveyed to him by an MP in the home of a relative of the FitzMaurices. But the scenario does not come easily, so he frets over spelling, rather than advancing into the substance of the material. So many extraneous letters in these English names, he thinks. It is the room that he chooses to blame. He had woken during the night, and encountered then the texture of this country’s darkness, which seems bluer, more viscid, than the sorts that he’s encountered before. He has no feeling for the surface of the desk on which he writes either, there is something of the night about it.
We now set de Renzy aside, and visit Katherine, who is remaining in bed, making of the morning so far, a lie-in. Depuis longtemps, Katherine has remained in the cellar, preserving there no sense of the room around her, apart from the location of the neck of the nearest bottle, and how much longer it could be expected to give forth. One might therefore think her an altogether feckless, indigent and irresponsible young woman. Be not fooled, these behaviours have their cause. Katherine is the only one in this house who is conscious of the fact that the same three days in 1911 have been re-iterating themselves, that Marie, Geoff, de Renzy and herself have somehow become insulated against time’s ebb. Who among us could blame Katherine, for becoming unable to bear the same five or so meals, forty or so exchanges, with people who are incapable of realising that all this has happened, and will again and again, all of them actors in a play with no end?
Katherine has by now given up the aforementioned habits, and likely to get through only four or five bottles in a weekend while engrossed in her poetry. Her work engages her in the same way that the alcohol once did, diverting her attention from the sound the hours made as they passed, no longer an oppressive soundtrack to the great indifferent slants of the sunlight’s solemn motions across her room. The rivets which imprinted themselves onto the shafts of light, marking the point at which they passed through the window, now seemed convivial, and there was something positively festive about the chiming of the clock on the landing when heard through the haze of an early afternoon’s intemperance.
De Renzy moves past Katherine’s door on his toes, and then allows his footsteps to fall naturally, anticipating a morning spent in the kitchen alone, waiting for his hosts to feed him, prevented by custom from feeding himself. He halts on the stairs, and then returns to the room for his pipe and a clutch of tobacco, with which he might pass a quarter of an hour. The manoeuvre as he passes Katherine’s door repeats; he has twice cast his tenebrous reflection across the clockface on the landing. Marie moves in Geoff’s arms, and then does not move.
—Is someone up already? What time is it?
Geoff knows this signals an ending, and makes a sound that expresses things. He gathers Marie closer to him, and she resists.
—No, no, it won’t do, I’ll have to get him, I’ll have to get — oh, Geoff, could you see to him?
Geoff makes sounds again, but there is more of his throat in it this time. He is still wide of assenting, but he draws close.
—Geoff, you must.
She says this and pulls the eiderdown from him.
—Oh, d——, it all Marie, it’s Katherine, not Matthew.
Geoff reaches out to restore the quilt to himself, but Marie has pulled it with her on her way to the window, and it has lapsed to the floor.
—More to the good. She knows where everything is.
Marie parts the curtains without use of the pulley, and they are heavier than she expects. The light moves across the room with them as they are pulled apart, and then, pendulum-like, make for the edge of the other once more. Geoff feels the day’s heat on his skin before he is again in the curtain’s shade. He places his elbow across his eyes, and then rolls over, pressing his face into the mattress.
It is Katherine that sees de Renzy first, some metres beyond the door, a bit off the decking, even.
—Morning, Matthew, she calls.
There is a familiarity in Katherine’s hailing that makes de Renzy’s turn towards her expectant. He might even be beginning to smile, the smile we take on when we are to see someone we know well in a place we didn’t expect, there you are, of course it’s you. But it is just Katherine.
—Good morning Miss FitzMaurice, he responds, and moves to extinguish his pipe.
—Oh no, don’t bother, she says, I quite like the smell.
Katherine advances to de Renzy’s side, looking into the distance and wriggling her toes in the grass. She breathes deep the morning air.
—Nnnffffffff…haaaaaah.
De Renzy reasons that the woman is a free-thinker.
—Did you sleep well Miss FitzMaurice?
—Mmmm, serviceably. Yes. I don’t seem to recall waking, but I suppose one can never be sure. Do I look rested to you?
—I should think so. Many find it difficult to look well-rested in the morning, but I daresay that you do.
—Hallo, hallo, Geoff salutes from the house. What on earth are you both doing out there?
—Just waiting for you and Mrs. FitzMaurice, de Renzy answers. Thought I’d enjoy the morning, take the air a little.
De Renzy holds his pipe away from himself and gestures at it, in performative exasperation.
—Certainly looks that way. Looks as though you’re going native too, Matthew. Spending time out of doors smoking with girls in their bare feet? You must be a lost member of some wild Irish tribe.
Matthew bent, and retrieved from the earth a pinch of soil to extinguish his pipe definitively, regretting the dusty taste it would give off later.
—You don’t seem like the sort.
—Pardon?
—The smoking, I wouldn’t have thought.
—I try not to let prospective hosts know until my invitation to their homes have been secured.
—Aha, very good. Shall we breakfast? I can’t promise much of a feast until Marie arrives, but we can at least set the table.
Katherine was gathering plates and knives, and watched herself as she did so, wondering at her participation in the ritual of pairing plates with knives, knowing where the meal, and the day, would end. Katherine, bearing grapefruit, cut into bloodied half-moons, skirted by her brother-in-law.
—I believe we have some eggs somewhere, Geoff said, but enacting no measure that might get them found.
Matthew had set himself down outside, believing it to be better for him to do so while waiting for Marie to restore order. He felt embarrassment on Marie’s behalf, for the fact of her sister doing nothing but seeing to herself. And her husband! Saying something in the kitchen about grounds, coffee grounds, there has to be some rattling around here somewhere, but his words did not make their way out the door, they didn’t even hear him.
—You seem in high spirits this morning Miss FitzMaurice.
—I’m positively ebullient! Talibus accensi firmantur et, et…
Her fork paused and sculpted the air in a stalled haste.
—tally bus a senn see, fur man turr… accensi…B——!, what was it…
De Renzy watched the landscape, trying to be moved. It was a particular kind of effort, trying to move oneself literally, rather than merely loosening one’s pneuma, to make it fit for some sublimity or other to cast it afresh. This was altogether different from what de Renzy tried now, to be transported from where he was, by wishing for it.
—Good morning, good morning all! I must apologise for the late start, and I do hope that Geoff has been seeing to you adequately in my stead.
Marie’s eyes fell upon Katherine’s scaphoidal rind, and then her sister, who was iterating a closed circle of a phrase onto the breeze from the back of her mind.
—Good morning Miss FitzMaurice.
De Renzy was unconvincing. He had said this while looking at her like something which needed to be rescued; he looked like a foundling.
Geoff was compelled to abandon his quest for the coffee grounds (out, out, out, said Marie’s eyes), and he joined the others, addressing himself to them like an orator.
—I should think Marie has everything in hand now. I believe that she even knows where the eggs are.
He reached over for an uncut grapefruit, and began to stir it from one hand to the other, looking into the sky.
—De Renzy, I don’t believe I’ve ever gotten a fix on your origins, you are not necessarily of our sort I believe.
—No, I’m…it might be easiest to say that I’m Dutch. After a sort.
—The Dutch! Ah, I’ve always had a tremendous amount of respect for Dutch history.
Marie had broken the eggs into the pan, compensating for Geoff’s delay by getting them all cooked at once. She’ll sort the mess out afterwards. The two hemispheres of her brain come into an accord, albeit in their mutual errancy. There has been a change; Marie’s mind is no longer right. She feels fear without referent surge through her body, pulling itself through her. Bright, triangular light, like the sun’s glare through glass, is seen in her right eye. It obscures not so much the frame of her vision, as where she happened to be looking at the time. The light does not have a shape but is articulable only in segments, one part isoscelean, one part less refined. Marie sees, through the walls of the house, something moving across the bog towards the hills beyond, moving from stone to stone across the topsoil. The little white stones glistened, and made a path that appeared behind her (for it was a her), before losing their colour to the darkness. She heard a voice YOU ARE ONE OF THE LITTLE STONES and she felt lonely to be a stone. Muscles in her face contract, but muscles in her legs do not, and Marie is released to the floor. The sound is heavy and wrong, and its silence reaches the veranda.


Katherine is trying to write a poem. It is in praise of Augustus, and his capacity to further Rome’s glory beyond the Danube. Katherine has never been to the continent, but reasons that she at least enough to produce a meagre sonnet about it.
She had walked over to her sister, and seen her body wrenching itself against the floor. Geoff’s expression was a pained one, but he could not shift his attention from the eggs, which were beginning to burn. He sensed that they should be attended to, but knew also how inappropriate doing so would be. It was Katherine who averted this in the end, pronouncing some variation on ‘oh dear,’ before returning to the library, up two flights of the back stairs.
It could almost be a surprise. Katherine had once gone into the kitchen with her sister and had engaged her in conversation, in an attempt to stave off whatever was to befall her. When this hadn’t worked she had found the eggs beforehand, hidden them, taken them from the house altogether, and cracked their shells in her fists, their polished innards producing themselves through the creases between her fingers, but nothing she did could prevent the occasion of her sister falling over and suddenly dying on Friday morning. It was a contributing factor in making the weekend unendurable, tomorrow or the day after would have their own drawbacks, but the first morning? Katherine had to participate in an awful lot of ritualising if she was to avoid unnerving the men. She looked upwards from the page, and read for some time the names written on the spines which faced her, outwards from the shelf.
De Renzy came to the door of the FitzMaurice’s room and considered knocking for a long time before doing so.
—I, said de Renzy, to Geoff’s face, which looked for a doctor behind de Renzy that was not there.
—Did you find him?
—I.
Marie lay on the bed in a position of repose. Her eyes were open and though they looked at exactly nothing, the effect of her breathing was vital. Her aspirations would begin and coarsen before stuttering then cut themselves off in a way that refused their dialogue, disbarred it from taking shape. They couldn’t make themselves heard over her.
—I can’t, I can’t seem to leave.
—What?
—The grounds, the grounds, I can’t move, I can’t move past them.
What stopped de Renzy was nothing so crude as an invisible wall. It was more like a failure of his momentum, like a car drifting slowly, from the early stages of a hill’s slope to level ground. It was no relief to him when he was vindicated, watching Geoff through the window, beset by the same phenomenon. De Renzy stayed in his room, and more than once allowed the ashes from his pipe to fall onto the pillow beside him. There was nothing to be said to the bereaved. There was a nascent quality to this cliché, he realised, as he turned it over, as though it were a generalisation cast too narrowly, there was surely a profusion of other situations in which one had no idea what to say. In fact, de Renzy couldn’t recall a single situation, with anyone, in which what he should or shouldn’t say was in any way clear. The drafts of his letters stalled, and he watched the ceiling yellow.
Geoff changed the towel which spilled across his wife’s forehead every half an hour. The significance of the task inflated under his gaze, for he lacked for other diversions. When he wasn’t speaking with her, he would hold her hand and look at her face, believing as he did so that he could detect beneath the warmth of her, the coruscation of some movement. These sensations were the result of his fancy percolating in its boredom, but they were enough for him. It was perhaps because of these hours of thwarted expectancy, her hand in his, that he knew the moment when it came. Her hand was inert, as it had been, and her death was just a change in his mind, it could as easily have been the lapse of his grip.
There are those who would see it the fate that has been visited upon Geoff FitzMaurice as cruel, to be forced to endure, again and again, the death of his wife, but recall that they will be permitted to be once more in one another’s arms, to doze and to wake, Geoff’s love ever-renewed, likewise, one also knows, his grief. And what else would there have been in store for those in the house, borne backwards into this unsympathetic century, the collective maddening of the countryside, not to speak of the continent. If we mourn for the loss of Katherine’s years spent in London, would we mourn also the burning of her family home, as would have happened, had not the FitzMaurice Court fallen out of the twentieth century into something altogether different?


The house had been silent for a long time, when Katherine stumbled from the library, a tear across the side of her throat, and a number of marks she had worried into it before tapping the diamond seam. She fell to the floor, and there, she will be allowed to die, for a few days. As her vision lapses, her mind slips into a mode of remembrance, one of the times, some years ago, that she had gone to bed with de Renzy. It had not been straightforward, to arrive at the correct sequence of words, behaviours to get this to happen but it had been a solace for her, to fuck him, to repeat the moment of him caressing a part of her body, a point at her sides that she could not name, looking down at parts of him being slowly dyed blue, as they dredged themselves upwards from the darkness, as though her eyes had adjusted, as though she could see him now.

 

 

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