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Galilee

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Язык: Английский
Год издания: 2018 год
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“That was a good idea. To begin in the middle that way. And with my glorious Thomas. He was, you know, the love of my life.”

“Jefferson?”

“You think it should have been your father?”

“Well—”

“It was nothing like love with your father. It became love, but that’s not how it began. When such as I, and such as he, mate, we do not mate for the sake of sentiment. We mate to make children. To preserve our genius, as your father would have said.”

“Perhaps I should have begun there.”

She laughed. “With our mating?”

“No I didn’t mean that.” I was glad of the darkness, to cover my blushes—though with her eyes she probably saw them anyway. “I…I…meant with the firstborn. With Galilee.”

I heard her sigh. Then I heard nothing; for such a time I thought perhaps she’d decided to leave me. But no. She was still there in the room.

“We didn’t baptize him Galilee,” she said. “He took that name for himself, when he was six.”

“I didn’t know that.”

“There’s a great deal you don’t know, Maddox. A great deal you can’t even guess. That’s why I came to invite you…when you’re ready…to see some of the past…”

“You have more books?”

“Not books. Nothing so tangible…”

“I’m sorry, I don’t really understand.”

Again, she sighed, and I was afraid this offer, whatever it was, would be snatched away again because I was making her impatient. But she sighed not out of irritation, rather out of a heaviness of the heart.

“Galilee was everything to us,” she said. “And he became nothing. I want you to understand how that came about.”

“I’ll do my best, I swear.”

“I know you will,” she said gently. “But it may take more courage than you have. You’re so human, Maddox. I’ve always found that hard to like.”

“I can’t do much about it.”

“Your father loved you for that very reason, you know…” Her voice trailed away. “What a mess it all is,” she said. “What a terrible, tragic mess. To have had so much, and let it go through our fingers…”

“I want to understand how that happened,” I replied, “more than anything, I want to understand.”

“Yes,” she said, somewhat distractedly. Her thoughts were already elsewhere.

“What do I need to do?” I asked her.

“I’ll explain everything to Luman,” Mama replied. “He’ll watch over you. And of course if it’s too much for your human sensibilities—”

“Zabrina can take it away.”

“That’s right. Zabrina can take it away.”

V (#ulink_f8e9c26a-60c7-57c3-b50f-79da4c3939d6)

i

I had a different vision of the house thereafter. Everything was expectation. I was looking for a sign, a clue, a glimpse of this mysterious source of knowledge that Cesaria had invited me to share. What form would it take, if it wasn’t books? Was there somewhere in the house a collection of family heirlooms for me to sift through? Or was I being entirely too literal? Had I been invited into a place of spirit rather than substance? If so, would I have the words to express what I felt in that place?

For the first time in perhaps three months I decided to leave my room and go outside. For this, I need somebody’s help. Jefferson didn’t design the house anticipating the presence of a crippled occupant (and I doubt that Cesaria ever thought she’d entertain such frailty) so there are four steps in the passageway that leads out to the front hall; steps which are too deep for me to negotiate in a wheelchair even with help. Dwight has to carry me down, like a babe in arms, and then I wait, laid prone on the sofa in the hallway, until he brings down the chair and sets me in it.

Dwight is quite simply the most amiable fellow I have ever known; though he has every reason to hate the God who made him and probably every human being in the state of North Carolina. He was bom with some kind of mental defect that made self-expression difficult, and was therefore thought to be an idiot. His childhood and early adolescence were a living hell: denied any real education, he languished, abused by both his parents.

Then, one day in his fourteenth year, he wandered into the swamp, perhaps to kill himself; he says he doesn’t exactly recall the reason. Nor does he know how long he wandered—though it was many days and nights—until Zabrina found him at the perimeters of L’Enfant. He was in a state of complete exhaustion. She brought him back to the house, and for reasons of her own nursed him to health in her rooms without telling anyone. I’ve never pressed Dwight as to the exact nature of his relationship with Zabrina, but I don’t doubt that when he was younger she used him sexually; nor do I doubt that he was quite happy with the arrangement. She wasn’t then quite the scale she is now, but she was still substantial; for Dwight this was no hardship. He has several times mentioned to me in passing his enthusiasm for plenitude in a woman. Whether that taste predated his time with Zabrina, or was formed by it, I don’t know. I can only report that she kept him a secret for almost three years, during which she apparently made it her business to educate him; and well. By the time she introduced him to Marietta and myself, all but the faintest trace of his speech impediment had disappeared, and he had become the fledgling form of the man he was to become. Now, thirty-two years later, he is as much a part of this house as the boards beneath my feet. Though his relationship with Zabrina soured for reasons I’ve never been able to pry out of him, he still speaks of her with a kind of reverence. She is, and will always be, the woman who taught him Herodotus and saved his soul (which services, by the way, are in my opinion intimately connected).

Of course, he’s aging far faster than any of the rest of us. He’s forty-nine now, and crops his thinning hair to a gray stubble (which gives him a rather scholarly look) and his body, which used to be lean, is getting pudgy around the middle. The business of carrying me around has become much more of a chore for him, and I’ve told him several times that he’s soon going to have to go looking for another lost soul out there; someone he can train to take over the heavy duties in the house.

But perhaps now that’s academic. If Marietta’s right, and our days here are indeed numbered, he won’t need to train anyone to follow in his footsteps. They, and he, and we all, will have disappeared from sight forever.

We ate together that day, not in the dining room, which is far too large for just two (I wonder sometimes what kind of guests Mama had intended to invite), but in the kitchen. Jellied chicken loaf, and chives and sesame seed biscuits, followed by Dwight’s dessert specialty, a Hampton polonaise: a cake made with layers of almond and chocolate, which he serves with a sweet whipped cream. (His skills as a cook he got from Zabrina, I’m certain. His repertoire of candies is remarkable: all manner of crystallized fruit, nougat, pralines, and a tooth-rotting wonder he calls divinity fudge.)

“I saw Zabrina yesterday,” he said, serving me another slice of the polonaise.

“Did you speak to her?”

“No. She had that don’t come near me look on her face. You know how she gets.”

“Are you just going to watch me make a hog of myself?”

“I’m so filled up I’ll not stay awake this afternoon as it is.”

“Nothing wrong with a little siesta. Good ol’ Southern tradition. It gets hot, you go snooze till it cools down.” I looked up from my plate to see that Dwight had a glum expression on his face. “What’s wrong?”

“I don’t like sleep as much as I used to,” he said softly.

“Why not?” I asked him.

“Bad dreams…” he said. “No, not bad. Sorrowful. Sorrowful dreams.”

“About what?”

Dwight shrugged. “I don’t rightly know. This and that. People I knew when I was little.” He drew a deep breath. “I’ve been thinkin’ maybe I should go out…you know…back where I come from.”

“Permanently?”

“Oh Lord, no. I belong here an’ I always will. No, just go out one more time to see if my folks are still alive, an’ if they are, say my goodbyes.”

“They must be getting old.”

“It’s not them that’s goin’, Mr. Maddox, an’ we both know it. It’s us.” He ran his finger through the remaining cream on his plate and put his finger on his tongue. “That’s what I’m dreamin’ about. Us goin’. Everythin’ goin’.”

“Have you been talking to Marietta?”

“Now and again.”

“No, I mean about this.”

He shook his head. “This is the first I’ve told anybody.”

There was an uneasy silence. Then he said: “What do you think?”

“About the dreams?”

“About going to see my folks an’ all.”

“I think you should go.”

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