“What do you make of Estevo?”
John and Marie were the only two left on the veranda. John was relaxing in one of the two comfy wicker chairs. His wife was in the other one, swallowed up by the soft cushions. They each had a glass of wine. Marie placed hers on the little table between them. Reaching out, she took hold of her husband's hand.
“He seems to be a nice young man.”
She sank back further into the cushions, listening to the sound of the crickets and looking up into the night sky. The celestial curtain wrapped them in its splendid canopy of shining stars, twinkling gently overhead. Moonlight shadows played across the veranda, a pale imitation of the daytime, but rather beautiful and romantic.
She squeezed his hand, “I think it’s a wonderful thing you’re doing. Even if I’m not at all certain how things will work out.”
“The easy part, well I suppose easier, was getting them here. But on the money side, things aren’t so great.”
“We can only do so much, you know. Much as it would be perfect if they were set up securely, well, we don’t have the means, do we?”
There was a pause as the crickets played their symphony, and they both listened and sipped their wine, savouring the moment together.
“And Milo?” John changed the subject.
“Oh, I’m sure he’ll work things out. He is a sensitive child, though, and I hope he doesn't get hurt.”
“I wish he’d get his nose out of his books for a bit and get more involved, go out, enjoy the summer.”
“Perhaps he will with Estevo being here. I saw him heading off this afternoon in the direction of the river.”
Once more, they let the conversation be submerged by the nighttime cacophony. John leaned over towards Marie and gently kissed her.
“I love you,” he spoke softly.
She smiled in the dark. Rather reluctantly, they both got up and made their way inside the house. The sounds of crickets faded behind the closing door.
* * * * *
“Oh! I’m sorry.”
Milo walked into the bathroom and stopped, confronted by Estevo standing at the sink in only his boxers. Estevo spat out a mouthful of toothpaste before standing up.
He smiled, “No problem. Come in, I’ve finished.”
Milo felt a little self conscious in just his thin cotton pyjamas bottoms. Estevo stood back allowing him to take his place. As he stood over the washbasin, he raised his head looking into the mirror. At that moment, their eyes met for the second time since they had encountered one another. This time Milo, a little more relaxed by the wine over dinner, did not look away. Estevo moved a step closer behind him. He too did not avert his gaze. Milo’s heart was beating loudly in his chest, his mouth was dry. The feelings and emotions he felt were almost overwhelming. What is happening? He asked the question, but the only reply was his own heartbeat. He leant, both arms outstretched, supporting himself on the washbasin. A door banged somewhere in the old house. The sound breaking the silence, shattering the moment.
“Goodnight then.” Estevo smiled at the reflection in the glass.
He turned and exited to his bedroom.
“Night,” Milo answered almost painfully, like a lament. A single word that trapped and imprisoned his feelings.
The door clicked shut.
* * * * *
All the family did not as a rule find themselves having breakfast together, but this morning was an exception. Milo, usually up early, was late rising. He had found it difficult falling asleep, with too many thoughts buzzing around inside his head. When finally he fell asleep, it was fitful and charged with strange dreams. He had woken up with a start and remembered what he’d dreamt that night.
Starlight glinted off the water. Gazing up into the sky he was mesmerised by the full moon, a giant white ball which almost engulfed him. Its light illuminated him like the spotlight in a theatre. Suddenly he was wading through a river, the water up to his chest and getting higher the further he went. He had to reach the far bank because he knew he must be somewhere. He thought he might have to swim and his clothes would make that difficult. They dragged at him with the sodden weight. Despite the encumbrance, he forced himself on and eventually, to his relief, hauled himself up, out of the river. He stripped out of the wet garments, discarding them, and hurriedly moving on. Hoping no one would be about, no one would see him in the moonlight. There was a door which appeared in front of him. He didn’t know how he had arrived. Opening the door, he found himself centre stage in a theatre. The moon had been replaced by a spotlight trapping him like a prisoner in its beam. He was petrified, all he could do was cover himself with his hands as an unseen audience cheered and clapped. It was the shock that had woken him up.
“Sit down, Milo,” his mother smiled. “You look like something the cat dragged in.” She turned, bringing a fresh pot of coffee to the table.
The aroma reached his nostrils and stirred his senses. “I slept badly,” he told her.
“That’s hardly surprising given how hot it is.” She poured a cup of coffee and passed it to him before sitting back down.
“I was thinking of a picnic for lunch. What do you think?” His mother was addressing everyone. Everyone except his father, who was the only person absent.
Corinth smiled enthusiastically, “That’s a splendid idea,” she said.
Milo sipped his coffee, thinking to himself his cousin sounded like a character from Dickens. He could picture her amidst the rest of the people he’d come to know so well. That’s a splendid idea, a turn of phrase that fitted exactly. Thinking about the book brought to mind a sentence that had struck him as an apt reflection of their situation. “We are quite a French house, as well as an English one.” It was Mr Lorry, if he remembered correctly, whilst having breakfast in Dover.
“I don’t think I’m quite recovered enough for a picnic,” his aunt replied.
Incredible, Milo couldn’t help giggling, it wasn’t because his aunt was unwell, but his frame of mind this morning had them all playing their part in his novel. Not quite recovered, he mused.
“Milo!” His mother gave him an angry frown.
“Sorry, I just thought of something amusing.”
He turned his attention back to his coffee. Obviously, his mother thought he was behaving poorly, giggling when his aunt was saying she didn’t feel well. The day was not starting out too well for the boy.
Amelie whispered something to her sister, but nobody heard or paid any attention, except Milo. He noticed and wondered what little secrets they were sharing. He didn’t have long to wait for an answer.
“Can Estevo come too?” Amelie asked.
“Of course. I don’t see why not.”
“I really think I ought to get on with the painting,” Estevo said, looking at Marie.
“Nonsense. one afternoon won’t hurt.” She was emphatic in her statement. There was no debating it.
* * * * *
After the breakfast things had been cleared away, Marie set about preparing the picnic. Morris was hovering in the kitchen. It was evident he wanted to talk.
“We’re alone Morris. What is It?”
He moved to stand by the sink, turning to look at her, watching as she picked things up and packed the picnic basket.
“I think your sister is getting worse.” He leant against the sink.
She stopped her packing and turned to look at him. “What? I mean, how exactly?”
“Yesterday, for example, she convinced herself we are having an affair.”
Marie looked directly at Morris and frowned. “That fits with her fatigue. It’s another episode. I know how difficult it must be for you.”
He paused, shifting position, glancing through the window above the sink without really registering what he was looking at.
“I’m concerned about the girls. For us all. This last time I had to get out of the house. I drove and sat in the middle of nowhere trying to work out what to do.”
She moved next to him and reached out to squeeze his shoulder. It was a gentle, reassuring touch. He gave a little smile.
“I really don’t know if I can continue like this. I thought being here might change things, but it seems to be getting worse.”
“We have to leave her, I think. And wait... she will come out of it.”
“Do you think so? I’m not so sure. The fatigue and depression I can deal with. But this is different. I’m almost frightened. Scared about how she might interpret anything. Worried about what she might do. It’s practically a relief she spends all day in our room. But it can’t stay like this.”
Marie let her hand rest on his arm. “Let's try to give it a little time. See how things go. Before we get help.”
He looked at her hand, resting on his arm. He knew he had his sister-in-law’s support. He always had. She and John, they were always there. He nodded.
“Maman, do you need any help?” Milo asked as he entered the kitchen.
She turned, removing her hand, and smiled. “No thank you, Milo. Your uncle and I have everything sorted.
He'd seen his mother's hand resting on his uncle's arm, and the idea that Corinth had planted in his head earlier re-emerged.
“I’ll be in the garden reading. Come and get me when it’s time to go.”
“Of course, Milo.” She watched him disappear.
Milo was concerned but also relieved to escape the situation. He wasn’t certain about what he had witnessed, but it did look like Corinth was right. He didn't know what to do, so he tried to put it to one side.
Morris smiled weakly at Marie. “It affects us all. I worry about the children, if I should say something.”
“For now, Morris, I don’t think so. Let’s see if we can’t enjoy this summer.”
He was not entirely convinced, but her support was invaluable, and he was willing to go along with her, to try a little longer. It was true that at least he was not entirely dealing with this on his own. Not so long as they were all here, together, on holiday.
“I’ll go check on her.” He turned and left.
Milo's mother continued preparing their picnic, her thoughts, however, were focused on her sister.
* * * * *
Milo was lying in his refuge, allowing the hammock to swing gently from side to side. The book in his hands: “His hands released her as he uttered this cry, and went up to his white hair, which they tore in a frenzy. It died out, as everything but his shoemaking did die out of him, and he refolded his little packet and tried to secure it in his breast; but, he still looked at her, and gloomily shook his head.”
He'd read the same passage twice, he couldn't concentrate on the book. His thoughts kept returning to the kitchen. To Uncle Morris and his mother.
“Milo, there you are!” Estevo smiled, looking at the boy stretched out on the gently swaying hammock.
He approached and stood next to him, looking down at the book he held in his hands.
Milo was surprised. Letting the book drop onto his chest, he turned his head to face Estevo. “Hi,” was all he said.
“Still reading Dickens, I see.” Estevo moved around to the foot of the hammock to look directly at Milo.
Their eyes took in each other. Those deep green eyes stared at Milo, trapped him as if a spell were cast upon him. A silence between them gave room for nature's sounds to become apparent. The birds were talking, perhaps even the crickets, but Milo was lost for words. He silently cursed his inability to speak.
Estevo did not seem aware of Milo’s predicament. It was as if he didn’t notice the silence between them, or it simply didn't bother him. He walked around the foot of the hammock, his hand gently resting on the rope. Milo felt the slight movement of the hammock and his emotions. Feelings that once more were about to overcome him. His mind now focused on Estevo, he would have liked that hand to touch him. Somehow there was a connection, between rope, hammock, Milo, and Estevo.
“Oh, yeah,” Milo snapped out of his revelry.
Estevo’s hand moved from the rope to lightly touch Milo’s leg. “Sure?”
Milo smiled and croaked out a confirmation. “Sure.”
That touch made him shiver, tremble. The feeling, that bond, it sent a little shockwave through his body.
At that moment, Corinth appeared, "I came to get you," she said, ignoring Milo, looking instead at Estevo." “We’re ready to go,” she announced, smiling broadly.
Estevo's hand retreated from Milo, and he gripped the side of the hammock with both hands, tipping it up, laughing and sliding Milo off. He stumbled backward, surprised, trying to regain his balance. Estevo stepped forward and caught him in his arms. Leaning forward, he held Milo tightly with both arms, the only divide between them being the hammock.
Milo was at first annoyed, but that was quickly forgotten in the embrace of the young man. He regained his balance, but not his head, which was a swirl of conflicting thoughts.
“Let’s go,” Corinth once again interrupted the moment, seemingly oblivious to Milo’s feelings, although she frowned slightly at their antics.
Estevo patted Milo with both hands, “Sorry,” he whispered.
Milo turned, smiling.