A Remember WENN story
by Linda M. Young
He simply must remember to eat. Or perhaps it was to get some sleep.
He did it too often, he knew, kept writing into the wee hours or through meals, until hunger or exhaustion made him stagger. That was probably what was wrong now, why he couldn't seem to keep steady on his feet.
Of course he hadn't remembered because usually Betty did that for him.
He stopped for a moment while the world continued to weave about him.
Who was Betty? Cook's new assistant, the one who rang the supper bell so loudly that Mother had to beg her to stop?
Mother kept him fed, of course, not Cook, with meals surreptitiously conveyed from the kitchen so Father wouldn't know he was "wearing himself out writing foolish stories." She had done it from when he was a small boy laboriously scratching out his own versions of tales read in school rather than concentrating on his schoolwork. A good thing school always came easy to him and that Father thought it unwise to intrude upon the affairs of the nursery.
Between Mother's reserved convent upbringing and her natural shyness, he never understood why that was the one rule of Father's that she paid so little attention to. He liked to think it was simply because she liked his stories, but surmised it was more because her own talent had been nurtured by the Sisters of St. Clare despite their reputation for strictness. She was a pianist. In fact, that was how she and Father had met, at a charity benefit for the Orphelines of St. Clare.
Privately he thought it was a romantic story. In reality he wasn't supposed to know. Mother never talked about her years at the orphanage; she was ashamed of it.
She was teaching him piano, though.
But that was back in Connecticut, and he wasn't there now...was he?
He had to steady himself, blink. His legs seemed too long. How tall he had become! Mother would shake her head at him again, smiling, "How quickly you grow out of your clothes, Victor."
Why, of course it wasn't Connecticut. He was in New York! There were the stately, imposing buildings he remembered from walks with his father, from when he was old enough to be taken by the hand and led aboard the train that took his father into town four times a week for his lectures at Columbia University. During school vacations which didn't coincide with university terms, Father would perch him on a stool in the rear of the great lecture hall, so long as he remained quiet, to hear him speak on economics. He would bring a book, on some subject Father thought good for his education, and, as he got older, a writing tablet and a pencil. It was only a small deception; Father thought he was taking notes when in reality he was perfecting his storytelling craft.
Sometimes it was enjoyable simply to watch Father. When he was lecturing about some theory that particularly excited him, he would pace back and forth, impressing the points of the theory upon his class with forceful gestures. He was so circumspect at home that it was rare to see him that animated. Father reserved his passions for what was important to him.
If he could only persuade his legs to hold him steady for one moment, just so he could identify precisely where he was! His legs had always been restless. When he was little and sitting on that tall stool in back of Father's class, his legs used to swing back and forth and make thumping noises against the wood, and Father would pause in his lecture to look down over his pince-nez, up, up the rows of seats at him. It wasn't an angry glance, simply reprimanding, sometimes even vaguely amused, and he would mind his feet once again.
If he had come with Father today, to class, why was he outside, on the streets outside the university buildings? If class was not in session, they would more than likely be in Father's office, sipping hot tea and warming themselves before the old-fashioned fire.
Odd how the buildings looked. Tumbledown, as if they needed repair. Even...damaged.
Perhaps if he just sat down for a moment... He thought of the stool again, of swinging his restless feet, looking down at his legs involuntarily. What would Father say when he saw his trousers? His first pair of long trousers and they were filthy, black with soot and...torn. He couldn't remember how they had gotten torn. Perhaps this is why he was outside.
"Didn't you want to walk to the club for luncheon, son?" Father asked him.
He turned to see his father standing behind him, tall, slimly regal in the Prince Albert coat and top hat he always wore to his lectures. He knew some of the boys sniggered about Professor Comstock being such a dandy. But Father looked fine to him. Weren't fathers supposed to look fine and dignified? He knew his schoolmates sometimes spoke about their fathers tossing a baseball with them on warm summer evenings. One boy's father even played football with him and his brothers. He simply couldn't imagine his father in a soft-collared shirt and flannel pants, brawling about the lawn with him. It would be too familiar.
"Were we walking to the club, Father?" he asked in some confusion. It would explain his hunger, his unsteadiness certainly.
Father was looking at him questioningly. "A walk would be good for us. Look at the beautiful weather."
Victor smiled as he joined his father. All weather was beautiful to his father, who loved his long walks, no matter that it was damp and cold and dark like today, with the coal fires and wood fireplaces leaving the air smutty and with a scorched odor. Mr. Samuel Clemens, he had told Victor, sometimes walked 20 miles a day.
They had gone only a short distance when he remembered his trousers. "Father, about my clothing..."
It was if Father had just noticed. He looked Victor up and down and said regretfully, "Betty will be upset."
Betty again. The name wasn't familiar yet it was...
"Many people are named Betty," Father said sagely.
"Yes, sir," he said, relieved, falling into still unsteady step.
As they reached a street corner, he looked in puzzlement at the street fixtures. Had they always been this old-fashioned, as if gas lamps still stood there? These looked more like the streetlights of Chelsea, where his father's only sister lived-
He fell backwards as the clanging roar came upon him, sending a split-second of sharp pain through his already aching head. His hands landed on gravel and glass shards and for a moment he wondered irrelevantly if a building was being demolished. Then his mind focused on a vehicle speeding away from him: at first he thought he had been run down by a streetcar, but now he saw that it was a motorcar, an ambulance by the look of it, although it too looked strange, as everything else did in his hunger.
Or was it sleeplessness?
Father had said he was hungry.
But the ambulance had taken Father away. He'd stepped out of the house that late spring morning as inviolate as ever, in his spotless coat and smart top hat, for the ten minute walk to the station. Victor saw him stride past the school as he'd gazed out the window longing for inspiration. His mind was never on the intricate algebraic numbers, but the intricate words that crowded his head and begged for release. Under Mr. Smithers' neglectful eye he composed playlets, keeping enough of his mind on the class to benefit his academic average.
Father had walked to the train station but a colleague had taken him home in his motorcar that evening. He was grey and coughing, finding it hard to breathe. Mother had hurried him to his bedroom, dashing, as he had never seen her before, for the telephone and Dr. Crisman.
Spanish influenza, the doctor called it, and Mother had turned pale, but stifled her tears. Who could have blamed her for crying? All over the country people were dying from it.
Father died from it.
Mother contracted it a few days later, her face turning the frightening bluish color that so many victims had, fainting at the funeral and also carried home in a motorcar. He had hardly time to cope with one event before the other happened and then he was stricken as well. When Aunt Margaret was suddenly at his bedside he wondered if he too were going to die.
He had, in a way, despite waking up, weak and thin, weeks later in the cramped bedroom of Aunt Margaret's Chelsea brownstone. When he was stronger she told him in her gentle, precise tones that his mother had passed away.
But that wasn't right. Father had been right here next to him just moments ago. He'd gone on to the club while Victor was...just working on another story. All of that was a story. No one was dead. He and Father would have luncheon at the Academy Club. They would go home together and have dinner with Mother. He would try to explain what had happened to Betty.
Betty again. He would find out who Betty was, as soon as he got to the club. Father would be there to meet him...
When he saw the streetcar he felt only relief. He wasn't Father or Mr. Clemens. He was too tired to walk, or perhaps it was too hungry. He wasn't certain any longer.
The streetcar looked odd as well, as had everything else in the past few hours. Taller. Brighter. No electric wires dangling overhead. And the motormen had changed their uniforms again. This one looked almost British.
"Madison and 52nd," he told the driver.
If it was time for luncheon, why was it suddenly so dark...
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