This is chapter 23 of The Matriarchy, a serial fiction novel on FITK
After he left Mary put her hands on the commode’s marble top and closed her eyes. Again she saw nothing but she held her pose, trying to quiet her thoughts in the hope that Emily would make herself manifest again. Mary opened her eyes and began to look closely at the commode. It was well made, with distinctive joinery on the edges of the drawer fronts. She carefully lifted the marble top off and set it aside. Empty, and with the top removed, the commode still seemed heavier than its appearance suggested. On a whim, Mary turned the piece on its side, exposing its bottom. The wood there was smooth, it was flush with the bottom edges of the sides and back. Something about it didn’t look quite right.
“Even an expensive piece of furniture wouldn’t be finished like this on the bottom,” Mary thought, “There should be blocks of wood glued here. What’s behind this?” She gave the panel a rap: it responded with a muffled thud. Looking at the perimeter of the panel, Mary noticed that there was a thin gap where it joined the sides and the back. On the front, however, the panel was rabbeted into the kick-plate and the joint seam had been filled with a line of glue.
“It’s another drawer,” she thought, yanking on the kick-plate. It made a cracking sound but didn’t yield.
Sean walked in with some cardboard boxes.
“What’s up?” he said, noticing the upended washstand.
“I think there is another drawer in this thing; behind this panel. Set it down again. Good. Now, on the count of three, give that bottom board a yank on your side as I pull on the other side. One… two… three…”
The front board released with a loud ‘sprong’ and, just as Mary had suspected, revealed itself to be the front of a shallow drawer, cleverly held in place by flat springs. It was full of envelopes containing handwritten letters. All of them were addressed to Emily Carroll.
“Treasure.” said Sean.
After the EMTs had wheeled Roger Ramsen out to the ambulance, Sally O’Donnell returned to Roger’s office to notify his daughter with the bad news. She picked up his phone and searched the phone’s directory for Nora’s number. Finding it, she placed the call. As she waited for a reply Sally came to the realization that Roger’s computer, which he had never allowed anyone else to use, was still on. When Nora finally answered, Sally told her of Roger’s attack and where he was being taken. Nora said that she would be at the hospital in an hour.
After Sally hung up, she rifled through his desk where she found a new USB drive in an unopened package. She unwrapped it and put the drive in the computer’s USB slot.
Sally took a deep breath and began to search through his email.
“The only thing left is the trunk,” said Mary, “Will you do the honors?”
“This has been a day full of surprises,” said Sean, “Can we take any more?”
“Just open it, Sean.” Mary said, impatiently.
Sean lifted the heavy trunk lid and opened it all the way.
“More old newspapers… ” said Mary, as she peeled them away, “… tissue paper… and beneath… My God! It’s full of clothes. These must have been Emily’s. Oooh… designer labels!” Mary lifted up a red satin gown. She draped it over her body, “And just my size!”
“Thinking of going retro?” asked Sean, handing her a stunning black and white art deco outfit.
“God, these are all stunning!” said Mary, her eyes widening.
They began to pile the garments, interleaved with tissue paper, on top of the commode. At the very bottom of the trunk, they found a garment bag. Sean held it up while Mary opened it.
“It’s a wedding dress!” said Mary.
“It’s your wedding dress,” said Sean.
That night Mary, who had been unable to sleep, went gone down to the parlor with a box that held the letters that she and Sean had discovered. The events of the last few days had left her with an urgent desire to learn everything she could about Sean’s grandmother. Mary was just as keen on figuring out what her role in this strange plan would be: she felt that it was something great and mysterious and profound, a thing bigger than she could imagine. Mary thought that she’d see if the letters held any answers to these mysteries.
June 3rd, 1939
I live in a dream of impossible visions. Visions of your body, your lips, your acceptance of me into your most private domain. I had hoped that this reality would come to pass but the fact that it has come true is almost more than I can bear. To-night a brilliant moon lights my little tropical paradise. The caress of the waves on the shore reminds me of our passionate embraces. If I have inspired your life of art, you have lifted me in my mundane world of commerce. I work here with a joy which comes straight from you. I am going to plan a trip in the winter and this time I will bring you down here with me. You would be enthralled by the scenery. I could work with you around dear. You are inspiration for many things. Please answer this my gipsy love.
Let your light in the window of love shine on me.
It wasn’t what she had expected.
June 11, 1939
Our boat leaves for the mainland early tomorrow morning. I am hoping upon hope that I will find your return letter. In the same way the waves lap against the shore of this island I wish I my lips and tongue could kiss your skin—sometimes with the softness of a quiet enfolding; other times with a rush of passion—in the same way each wave contains an underlying savageness then alternates with a recession, only to recoup its vigor for another thrust.
Dancing with you was exquisite joy… as your nude body met mine in that most ancient embrace. Your quiet acceptance of me during the rest of that day was also a joy. I felt that I belonged to you – in the way that a dog wants to be firmly owned. Our days together, the trip to Harlem - all was fun.
Of the prosaic things of life let me write but little. My work progresses speedily and well. On this desert isle the main occupation is work - the next is swimming followed closely by fishing, but these pursuits are diminished by your absence.
Good night darling - when you took me you threw a lighted match into a hayrick and this conflagration is the result.
Mary put down the letters. She thought about the distances that had existed between Emily and her lover—not just space, but time as well. Modern life, with its instant communication, shortened the time needed to allow feelings to develop. When nothing is anticipated, nothing has value. Does anyone even write love letters anymore? Modern life was sorely lacking in romance. She resumed reading:
July 6th, 1939
Two of your letters arrived yesterday and I have read them over and over. You have filled up my life; filled a void I never knew existed. Emily, I have a habit of keeping my friends. It is important to keep the sweet, clean streams of friendship clear and unpolluted with the mud of commonality. Our rivulets of love have merged to create a beautiful river; the river becomes a torrent—an unstoppable force of nature. The memory of your song and your lithe body dances through my brain. The reality of our passionate night returns in all its glory. The coming of the dawn was merciless as it rendered asunder the engulfing fabric of the velvet darkness. Your pearly body—as beautiful as a fawn’s. Your arms–a softness that bespoke tenderness. Your embrace—a strong grip on life. A life—where nothing can keep us apart. A love—beginning the first night I saw you.
About this strange island I find myself ‘stranded’ upon: a long sliver of sand, drenched in sun, surrounded by azure seas, beautiful for bathing. Animals: rats and a few goats, beautiful blue herons, a comical pelican. Plants: various cacti, coconuts, scrubby cedars, some incongruous white lilies. I found a new specimen of flora, “The Moon Flower”, nestled in a secluded spot. Closed during the day, I discovered it open during the last full moon. The plant had turned its face so that the the lunar orb was shining down on the blossom; a beautiful sight. It reminded me of how you looked down on my upturned face with the light of desire, that grace followed by the offering of your breasts held up for me to kiss: first one then the other—a mental picture which elicits a new surge of blood—my erection is the only proper compliment. I hold the memory of that scene as my inspiration. You cannot fail me dearest one. The years ahead hold no dread for me if they increase as love has: my love for you and yours for me.
Good night, and a kiss rides the moonbeams north…
Mary shivered with expectation. Mary’s sense of time had begun to dissolve: sitting in Tina’s parlor, surrounded by antique furniture, reading love letters from one of Emily’s lovers—she began to feel very close to the woman. It was if the year was 1939, she felt as if she was Emily. She picked up the next letter:
July 28th, 1939Mary returned the letters to the box. Waves of confusing emotions swept over her: desire, revulsion, sorrow, exhilaration—all these sensations were intermixed with a growing sense of connection with Sean’s grandmother. As the feelings grew, they began to overwhelm her. She started to cry. At first in simpering sobs, then full on wailing. Mary’s tears poured out without restraint, supplanted by wordless convulsions as she gasped for breath, causing her body to be twisted in anguish. In a break between spasms, Mary could feel a coldness wrapping itself around her. She thought she heard a voice; at first indistinct, but it quickly became clear. It was a woman’s voice, the voice of a stranger, but Mary knew whose voice it was.
I returned to an orgy of work. Some of my projects have suddenly became insistent and I am tied hand and foot now. It will be impossible for me to go up to New York on the 3rd as I had hoped. If I am upsetting your plans let me know. I have to be in Washington on the 4th for at least three meetings with government officials, probably more, which means I cannot possibly take any time off for at least three weeks. The situation in Europe is changing rapidly: the Germans are looking to invade Poland which means war between them and France and Britain. I fear the USA will be not be able to keep out of it for long.
My next scheduled trip to New York is on the 23rd of August. On the 28th I leave for Boston for meetings on the 29th. I will remain there until Thursday the 31th then head back to New York. It looks as if the best time to get together is Saturday the 26th. If you can make it then we will dance together—some place in New York, perhaps Harlem again—just you and I—and after that we will go somewhere to finish up the night.
We were so delightfully intimate on my last trip. I feel as if I am finally beginning to know how the little girl, who you were, grew into such a delightful woman. I certainly wish I had a photo of you when you were young. You must have been charming—still innocent and gentle—yet always containing the possibility of a volcanic eruption, a cataclysm hiding underneath an untroubled surface. A paradox of tranquil compassion and violent passion. The gentleness which flows from your hands is like the softness expressed in the way a baby plays with its mother’s breast as it feeds. It has always been one of my regrets that my hands are not soft enough in caressing you - there is too much desire in them. I cherish the softness. One of the special things about our relationship is that in it we both can escape into our simpler selves. I feel tired when I leave you but I feel a new self within me—at peace with the forces in the world which trouble me and rejoicing in the world I've found in you. For the next five weeks I must work like a fiend. Drop me a line soon, dearest…
“Do not weep, my dearest Mary, for in all these things you shall prevail,” said Emily.
And Mary was comforted.