Sunday, November 17, 2013

An Ineluctable Modality: Chapter 17

An Ineluctable Modality is a novel I wrote for NaNoWriMo's 2013 Challenge where the goal was to write 50,000 words of a novel during the month of November. This year, I wrote a novel-in-blog-posts: you can read the previous chapter, here.

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Proteus: Henry, I didn't expect to hear from you during the daytime – thought you'd be writing. Is everything okay?

Henry: Well, my concentration is shot, this morning, but at least I'm ahead of schedule so that a day not writing isn't a lost day. Anyway, I was wondering if you'd heard the news?

Proteus: News? What news? I haven't had the TV set on for a couple of days, now, and I've been busy writing... – composing this morning (I felt the need to make the distinction), so I haven't had the radio on. What's happened?

Henry: I saw it this morning, while I was getting my coffee and logging into my computer to start writing – I was running late (overslept, wouldn't you know) so it was probably about 8 o'clock. You know how foggy it was, this morning...?

Proteus I know how foggy it was here – couldn't see a thing when I first looked out, probably around 7:30 or so.

Henry: I could barely see what was going on down at the beach – just below my house, here, somewhere out near the rocks by Scamander's Cove. A bunch of police cars all along the cliff and men in uniform scrambling down to the beach, wandering around with dogs. (a slight pause) I went back to my desk but I couldn't get my mind off what I'd seen, not knowing what it was.

Proteus: And you're not going to tell me because you need to drag this out like a novel with plot points requiring a certain amount of development after so much exposition? They must've found someone, I guess, a body washed up on the beach...?

Henry: Oh, so you have heard? But have you heard who it is?

Proteus: Henry, you're sounding like the village gossip. Nestor would be proud of you.

Henry: But you said you hadn't heard about it: how did you find out?

Proteus: Find out what, Henry? You're beginning to exasperate me...

Henry: No, I mean about Nestor's body washed up on... oh, wait a minute, you don't know, do you...?

Proteus: Wait, you mean Nestor's dead? Is that what you're telling me? (I found myself needing to sit down.) Just tell me what happened, no more guessing games.

Henry: Actually, you were doing a very good job, there – I'd put you on my team, any day.

Proteus: Okay, so you saw policemen down along the beach and they'd found a body – start there. I can't believe what you're telling me. I just saw Nestor in at the grocery store last week. He seemed fine – old, of course, he's like Methusaleh, isn't he, around here?

Henry: Well, I ended up walking down to the beach to see what was going on. I was afraid something had happened to one my neighbors or something.

Proteus: Did he fall off the cliff or wash up with the tide?

Henry: Wait a minute, I'm trying to tell this story, if you'll let me. (He sounded offended; I tried not to sound impatient. I only hoped his novel was going easier than this.) So, I walked down the cliff – even with the fog clearing a bit, it was pretty treacherous. "Maybe," I thought, "I shouldn't be risking my neck," you know? But I saw quite a crowd beginning to gather.

Proteus: Sunday morning and not much else to do if you're not a church-goer.

Henry: Or if you're going to the later service – this was pretty early.

Proteus: And then, having made it to the bottom of the steps, I suspect you survived to eventually tell the tale? (Images of Old Nestor, the town elder and advice-giver, slid across my mind.)

Henry: Yeah, I did and there they all were, everybody milling about among the rocks. One of the officers came over to tell me not to come any closer. Another one was busy trying to put up that yellow tape – not doing very well.

Proteus: And...? (no longer bothering to hide my impatience.)

Henry: One of my neighbors came over and said that her husband had been out walking their dog along the beach – she thought it was foolhardy in the fog (she actually used the word 'foolhardy') and she was quiet worried, and then he called her on his cell phone and told her the dog found a body. That's when he called the police.

Proteus: (Of course, he'd call his wife first. While he's calling the police, she can alert the rest of the neighbors. It would travel faster than a four-alarm fire.)

Henry: That's when I found out it was Old Nestor. It was hard to say how he had gotten there or how he might have died. Natural causes or jumped off the cliff – maybe even murder (this, spoken in a whisper).

Proteus: But who'd want to kill Old Nestor? He was a harmless old man. True, he was always giving people advice and it was often usually the wrong advice, but that's hardly motive for murder, even these days...

Henry: Well, that's just it, isn't it – nobody knows, do they? He was pretty old, someone thought maybe over 90 already, so whether he lost his footing and fell or maybe he'd gotten bad news from his doctor and decided, rather than face a slow, lingering death...

Proteus: While I applaud your novelist's imagination, it would probably be better if everyone kept their conjectures to themselves until the autopsy report's in. You know how these rumors get started.

Henry: Fergus came over – he was the one who found him – something about "Full fathom five Old Nestor lies," though of course he was right there, floating up against the rocks, not out at sea, like...

Proteus: Poetic license, though I wasn't aware Fergus had ever applied for one. Do they know when... I mean, how long... since he went missing, if anybody noticed?

Henry: That's the problem. The old man lived alone, still, even at his age. People see him all the time, probably never really notice him – he's just there. And then, he isn't.

Proteus: Sad, isn't it, taken for granted, lying there on the rocks like that.

Henry: When did you say you saw him last? At the grocery?

Proteus: Yes, the other day – well, last week some time, Thursday maybe. They can tell, can't they, how long he's been in the water?

Henry: Oh, not long, I'd imagine, not long at all, and not all broken up and bloody like he'd fallen from the cliff. Might've just tripped and fell, strolling along the beach, there.

Proteus: Down there, by himself, in the fog?

Henry: Well, who knows what it was like when he went for a walk. Did you think anything was troubling him?

Proteus: I'd be hard put to say anything, frankly. I just remember seeing him and it registering, that's all. I didn't say hello, he didn't say hello either. Poor old man... does he have family?

Henry: As long as I've lived here, I've never heard anybody say anything about him having a family, though at one time, he must've been young.

I had stood there, looking out my windows at the fog creeping over the land, the clouds covering the immediate world as if nothing existed beyond the horizon I could see, the limit of the diaphane turned opaque and rummy. At the same time, people stood four or five miles away (as crows fly), out beside the base of Bald Head Cliff, along the beach's slanted perpendicular cuts of granite (at least I take it for granite), outcroppings and piles, rubble and shards, the rocks of ages past. Looking up, they would see the same clouds, the same fog, one long sheet of crepuscularity and beneath it I had no idea what other people found, there, unknown to me, that Old Nestor (whom I hardly knew) had come to the end of his song. It was an old song, tuned to different drums, perhaps, his own personal music of the spheres, a lament for the passing of usefulness, forgetting what he once might have been. No one remembered Young Nestor. Easycome, easygo.

How will it play on the evening news, I wondered: will there be enough factual evidence to report anything conclusive or will the village be swept away by a tide of conjecture, of stories, of the legends of Old Nestor which, had he been aware of them, might amuse him, an old man with more than just a twinkle of humanity left in him.

Will anyone mourn his loss, continue to sing his song? If he will be remembered, will it be because he was somebody's father, a friend, an odd old fellow who sat by the cove dispensing bad advice?

In his professional life, I gathered he had been some kind of financial adviser working for a company in Boston, having grown up here and retiring here eventually, still giving advice either seated in the park down by the cove or at one of the coffee shops in the Village. He was always talking to people – or rather, people were often going up and talking to him (there is a difference).

But from what I heard, his advice never seemed to work out and lots of people lost money following it, but they would always blame it on the volatility of the market, the economy or unexpected turns. One person I overheard say, "it wasn't meant to be – it was the Will of God."

None of this seemed to reflect back on Nestor who sat there benignly dispensing what seemed on the surface sound advice, not like the ravings of a lunatic on the heath. No one, as a result, called him "Crazy Old Nestor."

He was a village character, no doubt, one everybody recognized if no one knew him, and he will be missed as such though I had a feeling the community's money might be safer, now.

Everyone's mortality belongs to all of us, in some small way: we of a certain age read the obituaries with a twinge of unwillingness, scanning through for names we might recognize (as the joke goes, first, for our own, Mr. Lipsitt), stopping briefly on those with varying degrees of familiarity, a family name that rings a bell, wondering what the married name was of that girl you knew in high school.

The benefit of retiring here, adrift from the Old World where the transplant, despite its roots, never quite took in the New, was that I tended to be less invested in the progress of Death.

Who will go to Old Nestor's funeral? Many, perhaps, out of curiosity, hoping to find out more about his mysterious passing. He has, by the luck of the draw, become news, a sad old man with a sad old story.

Who will come to mine, I wonder, in the next beat, pausing just a bit to wonder if I cared? Am I too a sad old man but is my story – sad enough – news?

As a boy, I remember Father Hemon telling us how a ship – an old, tall ship like a schooner from the whaling days, he would say when pressed for a description – would come for us in the night, waiting off-shore.

He said how we might see it, far off on the horizon, wondering if it's come for us. It's rigging would be full sail if it were, "if you can see the Blue Peter," he'd warn, the flag that meant "ready to sail."

Then my father would start humming "We Are Coming, Father Abraham" – Abraham Brown the sailor, he explained, who died in the attack on the Sandy McNabs.

* * ** *** ***** ******** ***** *** ** * * be continued...

Dick Strawser

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