Summary: She's a wealthy widow. He's her late husband's brother-in-arms from The Great War. Can they overcome pain and doubts to trust each other in her final days?
Diary, you have been always my steadfast and faithful companion, the stalwart keeper of my secrets these many years. Tears of joy fill my vision when you remind me of the happy two years I had with Aloysius. You bring me comfort in these so lonely times since he was called back to our Lord. Still, these years of my loneliness are coming to an end. The doctors say I've not long to live, that my lungs are at their last. I will be with my Aloysius soon, and forever. You will be the one to bear this secret, and only you. This will be your last duty.
Goodbye, my friend.
Perhaps there is indeed freedom in death. I ventured beyond Alhambra's walls for the first time since Aloysius was taken from me, but just a few steps. I now care not if they dare accuse me of any ill deed. Let the masses be ignorant. Let them say what they will. You and I both know I didn't marry Aloysius for his money. When I met him in the hospital, I did not know who he was, much less the gulf society expected between us. All I knew was this: he was a kind and gentle man, confident and strong in his quiet way. He was sure enough in himself to allow me to my precious illusion of strength. That was enough, enough for both of us.
I had my first visitor since Aloysius left me, and my social graces showed themselves as atrophied as my innards. Morton Rennet, his name. He and my Aloysius were in the Expeditionary Forces together during the Great War. I nearly needed to be revived when I had to tell him that Aloysius was indeed gone from us. Still, we overcame that moment, and spent the day in celebration of his life, not his death. We talked late, and I had Sinclair appoint the gatehouse with linens for the night.
This morning, he accompanied me on my walk. We spoke more about Aloysius. He knew him before the Great War, when they were at Greenhill School. They seemed such errant lads. It was a side of Aloysius I never knew. Morton is quite a teller of tales. He has been to Africa, Arabia, the Orient, every place Aloysius longed to go had he not been weakened during his service with the AEF. Hearing these stories reminds me of Aloysius so very much.
I forgot how much I loved to laugh.
Doctor Meyer never said I would take leave of my senses during these last months. Yes, Diary, you are still the only one who knows. I know the burden Aloysius' illness put upon me. I wish not to be so a burden to anyone, least of all his friend. I nearly saw the last of Morrie, as he wishes to be called. We were on another of our walks, this time to the landing. I turned my ankle on an errant stone, and, had Morrie not been there, I may very well not be writing these words. Instead, he gallantly carried me back to the main house.
Sinclair gave us such the stare as he treated my limb. Morrie excused himself, saying he saw I was in good care. No sooner had Sinclair immobilized my ankle when I learned of Morrie's departure. I was most surprised at Greta's query if we were expecting more guests. I swear, I never knew Sinclair knew such language when I demanded he escort Morrie back. He must think me both deaf and daft.
I write these words by candlelight, while the thoughts are fresh. I had two nighttime visitors while I was in my bedchambers. Sinclair was first. He never before sought entrance after bidding me good night. He and I had hushed and pointed words about my day. He is of the opinion I am demeaning myself and Aloysius both. To that, I say the Aloysius who joined the AEF would have wanted me to be happy. No sooner had he left than Morrie begged to enter. To my surprise, he was in agreement with Sinclair. His visit was to bid me farewell. I pleaded with him not to go. I was in tears when he finally gave me his word he would not leave in the night.
Then, he kissed me. Oh, Diary, what is becoming me?
I really know not what to do, Diary. I have honored his name these past seventeen years. They have been lonely and they have been trying, but I have done my best to not live down to the wild rumors bandied about. Yes, I was but a nurse. He was my charge, and I cared for him only that he was felled by whatever the noxious cloud in the trenches. We were young; we were far from home; we were scared. I see no sin in those. I didn't know he was a Macallister. I had no want to become a Macallister.
I do not wish to sully his name. The Macallister name is Aloysius' only legacy. My solitary focus since his passing was to ensure it would not slide into ignominy. But how can I deny what I feel inside? This ember I thought long extinguished still glows. Morrie brings forth so many memories of Aloysius. Talking to him drew out feelings I thought were expunged, spent.
To which is my duty, my heart or my name?
Do I tell him? Diary, do I tell him? He should know. He has every right to know, and yet, I have every reason not to tell him. I know full and well that weight of the hourglass, the interminable span just waiting for our Maker to take a loved one. I still recall the helplessness, the feeling of unfairness about the whole span. Most of all, I remember the loneliness. Carrying that terrible burden, all alone.
No, I won't tell him. I cannot do that to him.
I should explain why the dilemma. See, today Morrie shared a secret with me. His visit was not purely social in intent. In his travels, he learned of a technique to prevent polio. He hoped to entreat Aloysius to help him bring this method back to our shores. No, not the journey. He knew Aloysius's condition, though not its severity. He needed investment to effect his goal. All this time, he was uncertain if he should tell me or not. I know not what is best. For this endeavor, Morrie requires $200,000. The monies matter little to me. That sum is substantial, but only a fraction of the Macallister worth.
If I give it to him, I fear he will be on the next ship.
Diary, you do so much for me. I re-read my last entry, and realize the initial question can be something else entirely. I have two confidences I have been keeping from Morrie. The first is Doctor Meyer's diagnosis. The second is that he is reminding me more and more of Aloysius, and more, of the needs I have denied myself since he left me. Do I tell him either?
I have come to a compromise. Aloysius always desired a more substantial legacy than merely the Macallister name on a building at Greenhill School. I will give dear Morrie the funds he needs if he agrees to credit any discoveries to the Macallister name. As for me, Doctor Meyer fears I have little time left. No one would think me greedy if I asked Morrie to tarry a month.
Besides Sinclair, that is, and he can busy himself elsewhere in the main house.
With shaking hand, I pen these words. Morrie simply hugged me, and I cried. I sobbed harder than I ever did since Aloysius' funeral. No, harder than even that. How I needed the human touch. So much the fool was I, to deny myself so basic a need. Dear Morrie is such the godsend. He stayed with me until the hearth was filled with only embers. Throughout, he said nothing, his arm more comforting than any word.
His hug was a gentleman's hug, I think. It was forceful, but then, he has such the force of life in him. I had told him my offer, including the condition he stay a month. I was terrified he'd decline. No, I was terrified he'd simply leave. Instead, he hugged me, and suddenly, I was a little girl once more.
I have only you to tell, dear Diary. I trust no one else with this secret. I have no one else to tell. Dear Morrie hugged me again. This time, he had no cause, but I welcomed it. In his embrace, I also became aware of his ardor, in a most indelicate fashion. I know I should be repulsed. I have searched within myself, and find not one hint of that. Instead, I feel a sense of ...
I am sorry for not writing sooner, my friend. Morrie returned after going to Boston to prepare for his journey. I understand the necessity of such, but that did little to still my tears seeing him walk up road. Without him, my days drew long, my nights endless. Many nights have I watched the gatehouse. I would watch until he doused his light. This past week seemed as if I were again on a foreign land without his beacon by the wall.
But now, he's back. I feel anchored once more.
Dear Diary, you make me smile again. I re-read my last entry and cannot help but think of how differently the night passed than what I expected. Morrie again sought entrance to my bedchambers. We talked in hushed tones, and then we stole outside for a moonlit stroll. Somehow, we found ourselves at the gatehouse. Equally somehow, we found our way in. The details after that I fear I must keep even from you, my most trusted confidant. Suffice it to say, I shall soon retire for an noontime nap, my first in many years.
I never knew how much of myself I was denying. I think I have always an aptitude for it. When first I saw Aloysius in my ward, I kept repeating "He is just another patient." I kept saying that until he proposed to me, I think. I suppose it only fitting that, seeing as I denied myself my true feelings when I met him, I also denied myself my true feelings when I lost him. For so long, for so deep, I have buried my own needs, my own truths.
I suppose I was to have faced my accounting sooner or later. Sinclair took advantage of Morrie's absence to confront me about my actions. I replied that he was the only one privy to these facts, and, if he maintained his confidence, none would be the wiser. I was not able to continue with him overly long. My lungs are tiring, just as Doctor Meyer predicted. I hope he did not take my silence as acquiescence. If so, he will have a most unpleasant surprise.
Men are trouble incarnate! Damn them all! Damn them both! I don't know with whom I am more furious. Sinclair, for prying, or Morrie, for lying. I hate them both. Why couldn't Sinclair leave my last days alone? No, Diary, he doesn't know. I'm sure he suspects something, but I've not told either of them. Would he have acted differently if he had? I don't know. I was shocked beyond words when he presented his hired investigator who asserted Morrie was in a Boston common house all yesterday, not conducting preparations as he claimed. His was all a tale to defraud Aloysius of the monies, nothing more.
I've been such a fool.
Thank you for being by my side these many years, Diary. This will indeed be my final entry. I prevailed upon Doctor Meyer to ease my passage into the next world and will start my journey at the end of this entry. I have left stipends for Sinclair, Greta and Mabel, and the rest of Alhambra will go to Greenhill, as Aloysius would have wanted. The $200,000 can go to blazes. You, Diary, I have instructed Sinclair to dispose of as he best sees fit at week's end. I suppose I will now see if Aloysius will still have me.
May 1, 1937
I don't know what caused your stuffy butler to give me this journal, but I'm glad he did. He nearly missed me, too. Another hour, and the ship would have left. I finally understand why you left me, though what possessed him to have me followed is still a mystery. I nearly canceled my trip when I heard you had passed away. Then, I remembered my promise to you, to bring this treatment back in Al's name.
I'll do it in both your names.
Author's Notes for The Human Touch
Firstly, thank you for your time and attention! I'm very proud of this story. It still moves me when I read it, which may be the result of ego or just being in love with my own 'baby.'
This piece has been workshopped before. It's actually a few years old. I try not to 'rest on my laurels' and re-flog older work. I'm here to expand my craft, not to gain acclaim for stuff already done. Please note that I do appreciate and act on critiques even to this piece. One review pointed out a typo, for example. I corrected that in short order.
My intent in posting this is as an example of the 'journal voice' for a fellow FPie. For discussion's sake, here's what I keep in mind when I write a 'dear diary' story:
- The author is writing longhand, so most people tend to summarize and 'jump straight into the action.' Writing longhand takes effort, and consumes time, so the writer will likely try to keep it as short as possible.
- Because it takes effort, rarely is dialogue quoted. Key phrases might earn a verbatim quote, but no whole passages of dialogue.
- Because it takes so much time to write a sentence, the author's mind will likely 'think ahead', so the wording will likely be in the highest, most educated 'voice' the user can learn.
Of course, that's the case for this journal, that of an educated lady from the last century. Journals these days may be full of text speak or abbrvs.
- The purpose of most journals is not to record for posterity's sake (i.e., not to be read by anyone else), so context is usually sparse and assumed. This is contrary to most rules of writing, so the fine balance of making it sound like the fictional author assumes the reader (which is the fictional author) knows the background, and the requirement to give the real reader enough supporting information, must be carefully maintained.
In this story, it's done by careful phrasing and 'leakage' of clues so, by the end of the story, we know how Constance and Aloysius met, how she came to be alone, her relationship with Sinclair, the Mcallister manor butler, and the conflict and troubles facing her.
Another possiblity is to include 'newspaper clippings' or 'scrapbook' entries. While these may require formatting tricks to offset, they may suffice to get some particularly evasive fact across.
- In contrast to almost all of the above, a modernized equivalent might be the 'blog story', which is for public consumption, is written stream-of-consciousness (so colloquisms may abound), etc. The above hint about 'newspaper clippings' can be replaced by comments to slip the reader those key facts.
Again, thank you all for your time. I welcome thoughts on this colophon as well as reviews and critiques on the work itself.
As an exercise in introspection, I re-read this a decade after I first read it and still found it sufficient. (The exercise was, "Look over your oldest work(s) and see how your writing has changed.") However, I noted that I didn't respond to the comments, so here are my thoughts:
I envisioned Constance as 19 (she met Aloysius when she was nurse in World War I) + ? (for the time it took to fall in love) + 2 (she mentioned she was married to him only for two years) + 17 (she said she "honored his name" that long, which I intended to imply she was a widow for that duration), so 38 or so. However, in researching this afterword, I found a UK Red Cross article stating the minimum age for nurses was 23, so a more accurate age would be 42 or 43.
Note: I tried to show (not tell) that they fell in love while Aloysius was recovering from being poisoned by mustard gas in some battle, but I didn't specify how long he was in recovery. In my mind, it was about a year, but from writing as Constance, it didn't seem she would pen that detail in, as it would be too sad to remember at first, and too minor after she started to fall in love with Morrie.
Day-Month-Year is the European date format, used to imply she is not a native American. It is critical to understand that Constance's primary characteristic is isolation. She was widowed at a very young age, and, having married "above her station," was shunned by her late husband's peers. However, she is the only bearer of his surname, so the Alhambra estate is her responsibility and millstone. For 17 years, she has had to live in isolation, with her only contact with the other old money families that of hearing their nasty rumors of her being a gold digger at best, and possibly suspecting her of murdering her husband.
Aloysius was a doughboy, but I envisioned him to be an officer. While I did not research this, I imagined that people of breeding (read: old money) would "naturally" join the AEF as commissioned officer. However, seeing as he was poisoned while taking cover in a trench, he was only a junior officer; likely a second lieutenant. Of note: at the time, I mistakenly thought mustard gas was widely used; it wasn't. Additionally, during research for this afterword, I saw a Wikipedia link to The United States in the First World War: An Encyclopedia that stated very few AEF members fell victim to mustard gas, so I beg literary license for this ahistorical plot device.
It truth, I gave Aloysius' age little thought, as he is more scenery than participant. Constance simply stated, "We were young." Personally, I imagined him as a fresh-faced 20 or 21, though the recent researching causing me to revise Constance's age might put him at 24 or so. Then again, the point was for their marriage to be one the old money crowd frowned upon, so his marrying an older woman (who had the nerve to be of the working class!) would only further her painful isolation that drives her affection to Morrie.
Likewise, I neglected Morrie's age. That he was school chums with Aloysius was sufficient. Given the above thoughts on the McAllister marriage, Morrie would be also be in his early forties, so this is possibly his last hurrah as the archetypical explorer.
Specifically, "What was Morrie doing in that common house?" I hoped the last entry, written by Morrie, showed he indeed was good to his word. Were this a movie, he'd be on the deck of a tramp steamer, ocean wind sweeping back his hair, writing these words in his lover's diary while leaning on the the ship's bow. In addition to being a telescope ending, it would be that pull-out-tissue-here moment where he's writing, in his mind, to her, about fulfilling his word and her dream.
World War I took place from 1914 - 1918, though the Allied Expeditionary Force was only involved from late 1917. Moreover, the 1917 contingent was minor, as the United States was late entering the war. Most of the engagements took place in 1918, the last year of the war. So, 1918 + 2 + 17 places the story in 1937, during the Great Depression in the United States.
Morrie's visit to the "Boston common house" took a week, from March 29th until April 5th. At most, that would be 3 day's travel, during which time he could have traveled clear from the West Coast, but that would not make sense; he would simply sail from California. I envisioned a day's travel to Boston, a week's worth of finding a ship and a crew, securing supplies for a "trip into the unknown", and probably a guide, as something as urgent as a cure for polio would not be in any easily-reachable region. Given the era, "deepest, darkest Africa," or "the Orient, land of mysteries" would be the likeliest destination, so an expedition would be required. If anything, putting together such an endeavor in a week is nigh-impossible, but there is possibility that Morrie starts by getting the ship, contacts another "Explorers' Club"-type buddy in Europe to get the overland logistics put together while he sails on his first leg, and they go from there.
This places the Alhambra estate roughly a day's journey from Boston possibly shorter with the remainder of the travel day spent arranging lodging. Personally, I imagined a slightly-neglected old money bit of walled property on Long Island. This was largely inspired by the TV show, "Royal Pains" set in that region.
Authors must remember this critical fact: Once your story is published, you no longer hold a monopoly on The Truth of what happened!
Corollary: Every reader's interpretation is valid. Every reader.
This includes the most off-the-wall misunderstand of your intent. By publishing it, you can no longer say, "What the \expletive\?! It's right there!" If the reader didn't see it, you made one of two mistakes:
- You weren't clear enough for this reader, or
- You didn't attract the right reader for your story.
Specifically as it applies to this afterword, the notes are simply to answer anyone's questions. They are not to scold the questioner. By having to provide such a lengthy discussion, this means that I, the author, have made one of the two above mistakes. Either I wasn't clear enough, or this isn't the right forum for this story.
And for that, you have my apologies. I hope the afterword provides you satisfactory answers.