Taken from the novel ‘Keep it together’. Follow the peacocks…..
Despite what you may read or be told by some, the truth is, we all expect something in life. Fundamentals such as good health, family or even a nice home; we are always searching for what we believe to be ours. Digging in the dirt for diamonds we’ve been told are there. Few of us ever really see that expectations lead to disappointments. Many more of us search for riches and rewards that are never really ours, or are even obtainable. Money, it is said, is the route to all evil and yet its influences have corrupted many a heart, strong and weak alike over the space of time. Golden paths of good intentions. It is not only openly intoxicating and hypnotic, but maintains a more insidious nature, that of which; like a frost that settles while you sleep, lays itself down within the hearts and minds of those honest souls that are so busy surviving. If money then was the sole reason for the tragedies that afflict the wealthy, if not complicated, Van-Black family on a sweltering hot weekend in July 1977, then it would be all too easy to see the reasons for the events that took place, and perhaps easier to sympathise if your moral compass is set to that degree. However, as with many stories, this is not the simple black and white of it all, and money; although forever the Devil’s dally, plays only a slight role in all this treachery. As it may just be the whisper in the ear of a malign-able heart, or the tiny drop of poison in the cocktail of life. For someone once said ‘The less we deserve good fortune, the more we hope for it’.
It was a series of events that led to that dark sweltering, yet stormy weekend. Seeds that were sown years before the Independence Day flags were stuck up in store windows welcoming the two hundred and one years of freedom. As if a twist in the fabric of fate, an independence of their own had begun, borne out of a revolution of complacency. Wheels in motion that start, not at the beginning, but in a good place nevertheless to watch it all unfold. It begins with three invitations on their way, to three different couples who live in the greater Boston area in a place called Rosemount.
Rosemount Heights would never be known as anything other than a snobby neighbourhood, and some would argue it had every right to be. Of course these would be the same people who inhabited this affluent area of Boston. The apartments and houses were a little less imposing than many other grandiose dwellings that occupy money driven cities in America. Nor could they claim to be of any particular architectural interest, indeed some have suggested many of the properties should be condemned due to their crumbling facades and foundations lodged so far in the past, the slightest disturbance could bring the whole lot crashing down. However, the lawns were always manicured upon much scrutiny, the dogs walked were always cleaned up after; and the rambling nature of the older properties were accepted due to the wealth they concealed. For you see, to obtain an address in Rosemount heights was not only a status of money, but also that of social standing and in a city where that meant everything; this was coveted most ferociously. It was the week before Independence Day weekend, and all along the tree lined avenues of The Heights, as was commonly deferred by the locals; people were smartening their already immaculate properties as if Washington himself were to trundle down the leafy streets. The flags never looked crisper in the sun which burned down as one of the hottest summers of the past few years, cooking everything and everyone to a summer bronze.
Brahmin court was an oasis address to the well-travelled feet of the local mail man. At some point in recent history, planning officials were able to somehow, and illicitly no doubt, put through plans of an apartment complex situated within the realms of the wealthy estates. This led to a short lived venture of a few other apartments being built within Rosemount heights, though small in scale than to more centralised neighbourhoods. This phase quickly passed, and the apartment blocks that were built were forced to conform to the strict, somewhat militant, upkeep of their surroundings. Brahmin court served as an opportunity for each mail man to offload a greater number of letters in one go, and without the stretching driveways of the surrounding properties, was much preferred. It was true that a surge in patriotic spirit had seized many of the locals recently, and in these summer days of scorching weather; it was not unknown for a mailman to be offered refreshments such as lemonade or iced-tea by the occupants of the many houses they delivered to. There was also a chance to gossip about gasoline prices and plans for Independence festivities. However, this was not to be the case in Brahmin court, where you were more likely to be commented on your poor attire and lateness of delivery than you were about the weather.
This was true on Monday the 27th June, 1977 when Christine Mason accosted the mail man outside her apartment, who it seems was delivering her a letter in a manner most disagreeable to her.
‘’What time do you call this?’’ She exclaimed, exploding from the entrance of her building to the man clearly fatigued from the hot sun. She wore a large grey cardigan that she kept taught around her with one hand, while the other gestured hysterically.
‘’Sorry mam’?’’ he enquired.
‘’It’s eleven O’ five…’’ she informed him, not bothering to ask him again ‘’…and I’ve been waiting for my mail since at least ten this morning. Which is when you usually deliver it by.’’ She held out her hand expectantly for the large bundle of mail she saw he had ready to deliver at the apartment building. The hot sun was reflecting off the windows and the glare was getting in his eyes, yet the scornful look upon her face could not mistake her mood or impatience.
‘’I’m terribly sorry mam’, we were late getting the delivery this morning which led to a delayed start.’’ He explained, somewhat affronted by her attitude, but nevertheless holding on to his professionalism.
‘’Always a reason isn’t there, the man last week was late delivering too and he came up with some bull-shit excuse to me then; and I see you’re no different.’’ With that, she snatched the letters from his hands before he had time to hand them over or offer an expanded apology.
‘’Again, I’m sorry mammmm’.’’ He said, letting the last word drag out and hang in the air to imply that he thought her anything but. She turned on her heals and marched up back to her apartment. As he departed, he smiled to himself knowing she had grabbed the entire complex’s mail.
Back inside her air conditioned apartment Christine Mason caught a look at herself in the mirror as she entered the hallway. A thirty year woman stared back, yet she did not look her age. Sunken eyes on a small bird like face reflected back. Her dark auburn hair, her mother’s only inherited physical trait, hung loosely and lifeless down past her shoulders. She had become more and more pale recently, as if in an effort to sub-consciously fight the sunshine. She deeply welcomed a paler complexion, a sign of a more aristocratic lineage. This she needn’t have accentuated, having come from perhaps the most well to do stock in the area, and now this waning merely heightened her contempt for the outside world. She would never be a towering imposing figure like her mother, she had stopped growing by the time she was seventeen and fate had concluded she would have to suffice at just over five foot. Her best feature, as she believed it, were her high cheek bones which to some gave the impression of a small sparrow. She thought this defined her and hoped it would help distinguish herself more from the working class. That’s not to say she despised any class, least of all her own which she felt firmly planted in. Christine had a very specific outlook on life, her life, and all the little universes that spiralled freely within it. All under her jurisdiction. At least as she believed them to be.
She was a snob, she was first to admit it, however she did not hold disdain for any class like many of her ilk. Indeed her family in general had a somewhat malleable nature in regards to social environments. When she was younger, she remembered running down the great stairs that dominated her house at boarding school. She hated the creaky giant stairs which were arduous on her bones, and was always in a rush to get down or up them. This particular decent she was running a bit too fast and tripped, tumbling to the bottom like a twig from a tree. Her fall resulted in a broken ankle followed by a period in bed and a cast adorning her left foot. In her decline, she had knocked one of the cleaners with her, causing the fifty year old soul to topple to the foot of the stairs with her. She can still remember yelling to the nurse, who appeared in much haste, to treat the older lady first whose injuries matched her own. She may be rich, but she was much younger; and in her mind should wait her turn. This was the conflict ever present with Christine. What is right is how it should be. True though, some of her thought processes weren’t politically correct, she was a paradox of right and wrong that only her cat like mind could ever untangled. She was also outspoken, perhaps a result of her stunted frame, and she believed in telling people what was wrong with them. She was just as likely to yell at the mail man for being late, as to the Mayor of the city for increasing taxes for those of higher incomes.
Some people who knew her could be known to have said that with the birth of her son Anderson, Christine softened somewhat. These were few however. It was more like that of a snake shedding its skin that the transformation of Christine occurred, if at all it did. It was more believable that she channelled her efforts into her son’s future, care and wellbeing. There was an order to her world and everything had its right place. If you were a bank teller, do you job and do it right. If you’re running for election, then the best candidate, and preferably a Republican, should win. If you were a husband, better yet her husband, you should be able to support her and their son to the best of you masculine abilities. Or so help you……
Victor had been sleeping when he heard the front door go, shaking him from his convalescent slumber. For weeks he had stared blankly at the same four walls in the bedroom of their apartment. That was not to say he was bed bound, but that his cast on his foot did not offer much in the way of mobility. Victor was tall and lean, he wore thin spectacles which rubbed into his nose, and could often be seen taking them off to rub the bridge which was usually red. Though well-educated and with an extensive vocabulary, he was very down to earth and spoke very friendly and warmly most of the time. This morning his short black hair was sticking up on top of his head and he hadn’t yet shaved. He had not heard any of yelling outside from the kitchen, and was just in the process of making some coffee, tightening his dressing gown’s belt around himself, when Christine’s post-mail man fury swept back into the apartment.
“Can you believe it, over an hour late today.” she proclaimed spotting the coffee bubbling away. “Thanks, I’d love a cup.” she said. She went over to her husband and kissed him on the cheek, dumping the letters on the table as she went.
“Well it is holiday weekend coming up, maybe they’re short staffed down at the depot? Or in the holiday mood already!” he replied. She glared at him.
“Really, I couldn’t give a fuck if they are short staffed. People expect their mail on time! And especially today, I need that letter as soon as possible Victor, it needs to be returned by the first of the month.” She sat down as he poured her some coffee and she started to sift through the mail.
“You had any breakfast yet?” he asked her, looking up at the clock which hung on the wall. It was nestled between two water colours of terrier dogs Christine had painted last year; that he had never mentioned, but didn’t care for.
“I should think so, it’s gone eleven. We can’t all lounge around in bed all day.” She saw his face fall and added quickly “…no, I’ve been up since eight going over the application. I had some cereal when I woke.” She now looked at the clock on the wall. “How’s your leg today?” She knew it would be the same as yesterday, but she asked anyway. What was affecting him more recently were the headaches that usual came on in the afternoons.
‘”It’s much better today, the cast is itching less. I think the itchy feet have become more metaphoric than literal now.” he said, sipping his coffee from the patterned bone china his wife had so carefully chosen before their wedding.
“I know it must be frustrating, but it will be off soon enough.” she replied. She knew he longed to be busy, his work kept him in his element and this self-induced seclusion, under the surface; must be driving him mad.
“But at least you’re getting to spend more time with me and Anderson.” she said. As if hearing his name, in walked their son, his mouth full of croissant of the chocolate variety, patches of it sticking to the swing door of the kitchen from his mucky hands. “Anderson honey, is that the extent of your breakfast? I thought I set out a bowl of oatmeal for you?” Christine chimed, fixing the parting of his blonde hair which always fell in front of his eyes. It wasn’t that Anderson was a bad child, he listened to what was told to him most of the time and he kept himself out of trouble like most children try to do in the back of their minds. He followed instructions well and showed definite signs of intelligence for his age. He did however possess a quality that was only apparent to an outsider. It would have to be said there was definitely something about him, and not something to shout about. His parents, some-what stricken with rose coloured glasses, would indeed state that the boy had been cast out of perfection and that he could achieve anything he wished to.
True, this was smart advice; but in this particular case somewhat misguided. It was like saying a haunted house will be interesting in that Anderson was unusual. For a child his age, Anderson was a little too quiet sometimes, not in a withdrawn self-deprecating fashion, but more of an eternal studying way. He was like the underground trains that ran through the night, ferrying the more peculiar passengers with more sinister deeds. Before he had time to answer she had spotted his empty bowl by the sink and moved towards it to wash it up. Victor stood surveying the kitchen, sipping further on his coffee. As she talked he watched his wife, and then to his son; although pained by his recent predicament he had to agree with Christine, that he had the opportunity here to spend more time with those important to him. He moved towards Anderson and ruffled his recently tidied hair while Christine lamented further on the state of the mail service and the country.
After tidying up in the breakfast things, Christine re-attacked the mail while Victor took Anderson to clear the chocolate stains from his face. She made a separate pile for the other people on her floor whose mail she had taken by mistake. She would dispense herself later, as for now she wanted that letter that was her reason for going out in the first place. It was perhaps this letter that was the reason for outburst to the mailman shortly before. Though she spoke her mind nearly all the time, Christine usually handled herself better, clearly her frustration waiting had gotten the better of her. So much rode on this particular letter. They were in the process of getting Anderson into St. Mansfield School whose elementary education was second to none. It was expensive too, and had waiting lists as long as it’s tuition bills. However, Christine had decided that it was the best, and the best was what Anderson would have. She had filled in the first part of the application they had received when they had first been to visit the school back in May. Set in extensive grounds, it was a boarding school which began as early as the elementary level. She would not be sending him to board, but the education system offered at St. Mansfield was renowned to turn out notables of many of the prestigious Bostonians; despite many of them having I high dependency on drugs; a fact Christine seemed to overlook. She came upon an envelope addressed to her and her husband, which made her stop thinking about the school letter entirely. An ivory envelope which on the reverse bore a family seal she recognised almost immediately.
Two peacocks, whose heads intertwined were set in the centre of the seal. She knew them to be white peacocks, she had seen the symbol a thousand times before, but embossed on the ivory envelope here, they were just birds, bleached of distinction. Below them they rested upon giant jewels. Above the peacocks were the words ‘Hvem har set en påfugl dans i skoven’. It was her family crest, which she had always hated. The words meant ‘Who sees a peacock dance in the woods’. It had always been obscure and strange to her. Her family, the Van-Blacks, were descended from Dutch immigrants who had come to America around the turbulent time of the civil war. They had been involved in shipping and had investments in the Dutch-India trading company. As such, generations of her family had been influenced by the exotic offerings of the east and had been prominent in the spice and trade routes from the Netherlands to India, trading in gems, tea, opium and minerals. When they came to America, they moved into the mining industry and built up a business in what they considered to be what they already knew about. Her family owned many mining centres in the Appalachian which were once, and continued to be, very profitable for her family. Their considerable fortune lay under the ground, as she liked to think of it. Securely tucked away in places that required digging to get to.
She was reluctant at first to open the letter, seeing the family crest which had crashed into her Monday morning. Her connections with her family had become so tangled and so chaotic, and she hated anything that led to drama and messiness. What she really disliked was not being in control, and that is what her family constantly made her, impotent. She hated them for that. With fresh annoyance she slit open the letter with a letter opener that had once been her father’s. Unfolding the card within she found it was an invitation of sorts. Inside there was also hand a written note.
In honour of the birth of our great United States, we request the company of
___Christine & Victor Mason____
in celebrating Independence weekend at our home: Nova-Manor.
Please arrive on Friday the 1st July at 7pm.
We hope to see you then. Yours Sincerely
Mr & Mrs Van-Black
She read the accompanying note, done in a much less formal hand:
Darling, I do hope you and the family are well. Your father has some news which he wishes to share with you all. This is very important for him, and hopes you will attend. I know things may not be perfect with all of us, but these are the steps he is taking to hopefully resolve them. Please come, if not because of your father, but for me.
She re-read it, just to be sure. Such mixed emotions began to swirl around within her. The one thing that leapt out immediately was the absence of any invitation to include Anderson. What could the news be? She wondered just as Victor came back into the kitchen. ‘
’Clean as a whistle.’’ he said, motioning to a much cleaner version of their son she had seen moments ago. ‘’Honey, what’s wrong?’’ he asked, noticing the change in her. He looked at his wife, then at the letter in her hand. ‘’Is it from the school’’. She snapped back suddenly to where she was, having drifted away into her thoughts momentarily.
‘’Huh? No no, it’s not the school.’’ She said. The school she thought, it had been pushed out of her head. She smiled at him, she didn’t know why but she decided not to mention the invite to Victor just yet. She would soon, she actually wanted his opinion on the subject, but for now she wanted to let the information settle a bit. She sifted through the rest of the mail and came across the letter she had originally been waiting for. Victor began tidying things up in the kitchen and Anderson had gone to play in the other room. All was in order with the application and she went about filling in the form that had arrived, rounding it off with a photo of Anderson she’d had especially taken for the occasion. ‘’There!’’ she said aloud. After getting changed and kissing Victor and her son goodbye, she left her apartment announcing she was off to the post office to see the letter off securely and promptly. True to her word, she made sure the other mail for their apartment block found their rightful homes.
As she walked down the block her thoughts travelled, surprisingly not to the future she was hopefully securing for her son, but to her other family. It had been a long time since she had seen them and years since they’d all been together. That isn’t to say they had no contact. Her mother never forgot to send Anderson birthday and Christmas cards along with gifts, dutifully signed from both her parents. Yet ever since she was married, she had all but cut ties with her father. Odd really she thought in hindsight, it was always her father whom she’d gotten on with better with. She crossed the street to avoid the man walking his dog, and looked up to the sky. This weather was quite insufferable, but she couldn’t abide driving in this heat. She walked on further, stopping only once to admire the view at the top of Peabody road, which looked out over to the harbour where she could see Nahant Bay sprawling out into the ocean. She continued to think about her family. Her father was now, what; fifty seven years old, and the last conversation they had had was at Anderson’s christening.
If she’d had it her way, she never would have invited them. But, for the sake of show and society, she could not have excluded them from their own, and only, grandchild’s christening. After she’d been married to Victor, her father had warned her about their match. It’s not that he didn’t approve of her getting married, under any other circumstances he would have welcomed it. He just detested Victor, which had always struck her as odd, as being objective, she could comfortably say Victor was very agreeable. They were just too different to ever get on or see eye to eye, that was the problem. Victor came from old money as well, but he was definitely a forward thinker and felt the new wave of women’s liberation was a good thing. Her father viewed the marriage as more of an ‘offloading’, or so it seemed to her. He made it clear then his views on inheritance, and seeing as Victor was from a well to do background, he removed any financial responsibilities from himself.
To Christine, this was justly unfair. Why should she not be entitled to anything just because she now had a husband? She had concluded that she had been the model child, never causing stirs or headlines like other society girls her age had. And they had frequently, the stories she would hear at school! She had been educated in boarding school, and although excelled in her classes, never pursued a career or entry into college. Instead she set about to be married and to raise a family. Her father, Milton Van-Black, was known to be a ‘man’s man’ and upheld, what she thought, were sexist notions about the roles of men and woman. As she had found herself a husband, and despite being the first child, he had resolved that the company and vast inheritance would now fall to her brother Jacob who, at only four years her junior, was the youngest of the family.
She clenched her teeth as she thought all this over again. It had been awhile since the original issue with her family had come up, as over the years more benign issues had taken precedence. She had married Victor nonetheless, and done a pretty good job up to now she thought in regards to marriage and motherhood. So, she had decided to play him at his own game, and when she fell pregnant she practically willed herself to have a boy. Anderson was born just under a year after they had wed in 1973. If her father was so worried about the male line, then his grandchild, his grandson would have to be due some claim to the estate or company. To an outsider it may seem calculated and materialistic, but to Christine, she merely felt this was what was due to her. She had been shipped off to boarding school at a young age and did everything she could toe the family line. So, when she learned at her son’s christening that her father had no plans to make allowance for Anderson, she snapped and disassociated herself from them all. Her mother had tried to quell the situation, saying who knows what was to happen in the future, and she was sure there would be something for everyone when the sad day of her husband’s passing came.
She had privately told Christine she would see to it that the will would include her, though she would have to let go of any notions of control in the family business. It had been a tangled and gruelling situation. Anderson now only knew of his grandparents through cards and presents. They were always signed from them both, but she knew it was her mother’s way of trying to smooth things over. Her relationship with her brother was strained anyway, due to his stance of inheriting the money. Which he naturally did not have a problem with. He did have his own reservations, though Christine was unaware of these. Her father justified this all by the same reason for her own oversight.
‘’I’ve told you, you and Victor have enough money. For god’s sake he’s due to inherit half of fucking Massachusetts when his father rolls into the grave.’’ She vividly remembers her father saying, not far out of reach of the reverend’s ear. She hadn’t told her family of Victor’s own family troubles which could lead to his own disinheritance. One storm at a time.
So, she figured she could not rely on her family to help her out and had set about making Anderson have the best of everything she could provide. When the cards and presents came pouring in at birthdays and Christmas, from his grandparents, aunt and uncle who never did forget, she did not lie to him. However, she said that they were from his family, for reasons that will become apparent as he gets older, that they no longer saw regularly. This line had been upheld now for going on nearly four years, as his fourth birthday was coming up in September. Victor it seemed shared his wife’s beliefs as he did not challenge this approach to their son. He had no particular quarrel with any other member of her family, aside her father. He did keep a quiet uncertainty for her mother however, as she seemed to him to be snide and two faced, and he knew too the reasons why he and her father would never get along. There seemed to be a mutual loathing between them.
However, he did not openly fight with any of them. Which, in her own way Christine respected him for. Of course, the same could not be said for her, who refused to have anything to do with his sister after the comments she had made about Anderson on his first birthday.
She arrived at the post office with her family’s entanglements still spinning in her brain. She waited in line, nearly fifteen minutes while the elderly talked the ear off the poor man at the desk. When the letter was finally sorted, she popped into the Dunkin Doughnuts across the street to get a coffee and some doughnuts for them all. As she walked back, her thoughts now came upon the invitation that currently sat on her kitchen table. Sipping her coffee she wondered what the announcement that was mentioned could be. Maybe she thought, the old man had decided that he was getting on a bit now, and it was time to relent and share out some of the money he had hoarded away. Her family were rich, no denying it, but how rich was dependant on who you talked to. Her mother would always clam up when it came to talking about money, saying it was “your father’s concern’’. HA! She thought to herself, I bet it wasn’t just his concern when she was getting her foot in the door. Her mother and father had one of those strange arrangements where they’d had a somewhat arranged marriage, but then fallen in love with each other.
Her mother adored her father and tried desperately to keep the peace. Though there was more too it she thought. Her mother, as much as she had wanted the peace to be kept, and to be left out of the drama, was always right in the middle of anything that occurred, either as a go-between or final-sayer. She wore two faces, one of the merry little housewife, and the other of the power behind the throne. It was a foolish person who underestimated Veronica Van-Black she thought. She would tell Victor about the invite when she got back, and ask his opinion. She stopped along the way to pick up some fallen leaves that had dried in the sun, she would use these is one of her table decorations. When she got back the doughnuts were still warm in the bag.
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