So, onward, into the dreamscape. A very short chapter today.
The Deep End of Your Dreams
In time – seven more years, to be precise – she knew her place in this odd new family, the Wilkinson family. Her nearest sibling, in age, anyway, was a boisterous jock named Elizabeth. Liz rode horses and rowed crew, an unheard of predisposition in 1919, and she was big-boned and coarse-humored, too. Liz had started college the year before, at Penn, and snuck home so Claire could help with her homework.
Her oldest sibling, her brother Charles, had been something of an adonis to her. Chuck was tall and possessed a fierce intellect, and he was scrupulously fair-minded, yet even at seven years old, when she first set eyes on him, she thought him special. Chuck was completely unlike Rupert in every way, so much so she wondered if Rupert had been the boy’s father, but in time Chuck became Claire’s protector – both at home and when he picked her up at school. When the war broke out in Europe, in 1914, he’d wanted to enlist, but Rupert had prevailed on him… “Finish college first! Who knows, maybe we won’t be sucked into this war…”
That was not to be, however.
By the time America formally entered the war, in 1917, Chuck was in the Navy, an officer, and he already had his eye on a career in politics. Rupert was devastated.
The fly in Claire’s ointment was her sister Amanda. Amanda was a devious, manipulative creature who enjoyed breaking things – then blaming the latest calamity on someone else, but usually on Claire. This might have been a serious issue had both Rupert and Chuck not seen through the Amanda’s actions – and intentions, but it seemed to Claire that there was something seriously wrong with Amanda. Who’s unjust causes were not in any way hampered by her looks. Blond-haired and blue-eyed, Amanda was regarded as one of the brightest lights in Mainline Society, and would-be suitors came calling for her on a nauseatingly regular basis – which bothered Claire not at all, but which, in the end, crushed Elizabeth. Amanda was a year younger than Chuck and so was away at college and blissfully out of the picture by this point in time, yet when she drifted by on weekends discord followed in her wake as naturally as winds precede a coming summer’s storm. So, when Claire felt the coming of Amanda’s treacherous laughter, she generally kept out of the rain by losing herself among the books in their father’s library.
Which was the safest place in her world, in this place called Philadelphia.
Rupert’s promise to move to Chartres had been as empty as all his other promises. In short, his words were exigent entreaties designed to forestall meaningful conversations about consequences, and Claire had read enough to understand the man’s various comings and goings. He was a type of con-man, affable and generous to a fault, but a con-man, yet The Law was his stock in trade. Anyone could tell he was addicted to making money, scads and scads of money, but he seemed to have little inclination to happiness. He read little else than the latest financial news, and had no interest in Claire’s accomplishments on the piano, though by the time Claire turned twelve he seemed to develop an unhealthy interest in Claire’s body.
Yet oddly enough, Emily, her mother, saw through these machinations and kept him away after the sun went down, and in time Claire learned that Rupert had visited his unseemly appetites on Amanda often enough to be of some concern socially. A hasty trip to Sweden had been arranged to take care of that problem, and all the attendant complications that came with such an undesired event.
Rupert was one of those men. His appetite severe, his sense of propriety impaired by proximity – and bourbon – he could have had affairs with any number of available women, yet he chose, often enough, to take out his lust on Amanda. And soon enough Claire saw through her sister’s actions and intentions, understood where her grief came from, yet the distance between Rupert and Amanda remained insurmountable. In time Claire learned, as well, that one of the complications of her sister’s Swedish misadventure was that she was barren: Amanda would never have children – and this was considered a Dark Family Secret. Perhaps the Darkest.
1919 saw the winding down of the war, and Chuck’s return from the North Atlantic became a cause for celebration – if only for a short time. He had two more years left of his commitment to the Navy, and as he did not want his father to intervene he planned to finish his stint then gather his wits about him and move on to graduate school – before running for congress. That was the plan, anyway.
Yet he was home for Christmas, and that was miracle enough for them all. The future would, so it seemed, have to wait for the present.
The dream came for her that year, on the night before Christmas.
She was on the boat deck and her father was lifting her up off the deck, placing her in the lifeboat; then there came an explosion and one of the great red funnels collapsed inwards on itself – and moments later everyone was in the water. A vice of pinpricks held her firm and she wanted to struggle and break free of the icy water but she felt a hand grasping her ankle, pulling her down. She stuck her head beneath the waves and saw her father trying to pull himself back to the surface and she knew if she didn’t kick free of him he would pull her down too…
And she watched his limpid, questioning eyes as he slipped into the yawning darkness, falling away, fading into the night…
Then she bolted upright in bed, drenched in sea water.
When Chuck heard her screams he ran to her room; Rupert and Emily were not far behind.
Everyone first assumed Amanda had poured buckets of seawater on Claire while she slept, but Amanda wasn’t in her room. She wasn’t, as it happened, even in the house. She had slipped out with an old boyfriend and was, at the time, in a nearby stable and most passionately involved. When she tried to sneak back into the house before dawn she was met by her family, all but Claire and Emily, anyway, and they angrily demanded to know why she had done such a thing…
“Done what?” Amanda cried, as she too wanted to know.
“You poured buckets full of seawater on your sister Claire!” Rupert fairly shouted.
“I did no such thing!” Amanda countered. “I was with Langston all night!”
“You were what?” Chuck seethed, and too late Amanda realized what she’d just admitted. Her father stormed from the kitchen, leaving Chuck standing there aghast. “What have you done now, you trollop!?”
But Amanda held her ground. “I am not a child, and I did no such thing!”
“Claire’s bed is awash in sea water. Go to her room, you can smell the sea yourself! If you didn’t do this, can you explain to me what happened?”
“Show me!” Amanda almost shouted, and Chuck led her up the back stairway to Claire’s room. Marie and Edith were just now stripping the bed and Amanda could see that easily two or three gallons of seawater had been deposited on her sister’s bed. Worse still, her room, indeed, the hallway outside Claire’s room smelled just like the seashore, and she walked into the room, held the sheets to her face. “It IS seawater…” she whispered.
“I told you it is, didn’t I?” Chuck grumbled. “Where did you find it this time of year?”
“Did you drive to the shore?”
“No! I told you I had nothing to do with this!”
“Amanda, this is no longer funny. You simply must own up to these pranks of yours.”
“I’m telling you, Charles, for the last time – I had nothing to do with this…!”
Then he too turned and stormed away from the scene of the crime.
Amanda stood in the room, Marie and Edith staring at her now, shaking with unrepentant rage. Then she spied a strand of something on the oak floor and bent to see what it was…
“Seaweed…?” she sighed, bringing the ragged green scrap to her nose. “How could this be?”
Some semblance of normalcy had returned to the house by the time luncheon was served, and by that time the family had already gathered around the Christmas tree in the library and exchanged their simple gifts. Claire seemed none the worse for her ordeal, yet she paid not the slightest attention to Amanda until her sister leaned close after dessert and spoke to her.
“Claire, I didn’t do that to you,” Amanda pleaded. “Please believe me…”
Yet Claire had a faraway look in her eyes; faraway and preternaturally calm. “I was dreaming of the sea,” she said quietly. “Then I was drowning, screaming…”
“You were dreaming?”
“Yes. That’s right. I was on the Titanic again, but the ship turned on it’s side and I was thrown into the water – by my father…”
Everyone was looking at her now, and even Chuck seemed disturbed by what she’d just described. “You were in the water?” he asked. “By the Titanic? And then you woke up?”
“Yes. I was about to drown…”
Chuck looked at his father – who only shook his head, the expression on his face dour beyond anyone’s remembrance.
“Were you under the water, in the sea,” Rupert wanted to know.
“Yes,” she said.
“And your father was with you?” Rupert added.
“He was under me, trying to pull himself back up to the surface.”
“Under you? You mean…pulling you down?”
“And that’s when,” Chuck interrupted, “you woke up?”
“I found this on the floor in her room,” Amanda said defiantly, tossing the bit of seaweed on the table in front of her father’s place. He picked it up and turned it over in the midday light, then he handed the leafy piece to Chuck. “What do you make of this, son?”
Chuck turned it over in the light, too, then the blood drained from his face. “This is a deep water kelp, Father, of a kind we most often see around the Grand Banks. I’ve never heard of it being found along our shores.”
Rupert looked from his son to Claire, who was looking at Amanda now.
“I don’t think it was a dream, Amanda, and I don’t think you threw water on me.”
“Where do you think you were, Claire?” Emily asked.
“I was in the sea, with my father,” she repeated.
“At the Titanic? In 1912?” Chuck asked, and she nodded her head. “That’s not possible. You know that, don’t you, Claire.”
She continued nodding. “I know. Nevertheless, that’s where I was.”
“Has anything like this happened to you before?” her brother asked.
She shook her head, then her head canted sideways a little. “I’ve seen father in my dreams before, but not like this.”
“So, this was different? In what way?”
She turned and looked at her brother. “I don’t know how else to describe it, Charles, but this wasn’t a dream. I was there. I felt it happen…I felt him grab my ankle, and it felt like he would never let go of me again.”
Three days later they rode down to the Navy Yard and saw Charles onto his ship, then Rupert took the rest of the family to lunch at an old eatery near the Yard. Amanda was still seething about her mistreatment, while Liz seemed most unsure of herself once again now that Charles was out of the picture, and Claire felt a ripple in the currents that steered this family – like at some point over the last week Charles had assumed leadership of the clan. It was subtle, but it was there, and she thought of Count Ilya again..
And yet, no one had talked about her dream – or whatever it was – since Christmas Day. The wet bed and puddled water on the hardwood floors were evidence enough that something out of the ordinary had happened, but no one was willing to make the leap that Claire implied was needed to believe her version of events. And in truth, Claire had to admit she didn’t want to believe those things had happened.
Because, on the one hand, she knew she’d never left her bed. Simple enough. Yet she instinctively understood that she had been in the North Atlantic, if only for a few minutes – and the proof of that assertion lay in the watery residue everyone had seen in her bedroom.
What else could it be?
“Claire? What are you thinking about?” Rupert asked.
“How much I’ll miss Charles,” she said, telling only half the truth.
“Me too,” Liz added.
“It must be the uniform,” Rupert sighed.
“I can’t believe they’re sending that ship back to France,” Emily added. “Why do they need to do that?”
“They’re escorting troop ships, in case some U-Boat commander hasn’t gotten word yet.”
Emily shook her head, turned away from her time-worn fears. “Must we keep coming to this dreadful old place, Rupert?”
“Dreadful? What’s dreadful about it?”
“The food is rancid and the service inferior,” she said – just as their waiter walked up to the table. If the old man had heard a thing he was doing a fine job pretending he hadn’t, and after he took their orders he disappeared into the kitchen. “Check your food for broken glass and rat droppings,” she added a little too ruefully.
“Emily…really…” Rupert whispered, but he was looking at Claire just then. Looking at the fear in her eyes. “Claire…? What is it? What’s wrong?”
“Charles. There’s something wrong with his ship…”
“What? What do you mean?”
“There’s a fire on his ship. I see it. Right now.”
Rupert’s arched eyebrow was all the others needed to see. He was beyond skeptical now, almost to the point where he wanted to get Claire professional help. “Bah,” he growled as he turned to Emily and began talking about arrangements for getting the girls back to school next week. Their meals came and everyone ate in silence – everyone, that is, but Claire. She kept looking towards the windows at the front of the restaurant, her mind’s eye filling with images of burning men and flooding compartments –
Then without warning she stood and ran to the window, and Rupert watched her go with a growing sense of anger flooding his own mind’s eye…until he heard fire trucks rolling by on the street. Then crowds of people running towards the Navy Yard. He stood and walked to the windows and stood by Claire’s side.
“Down there,” she said, pointing.
Rupert saw boiling clouds of black smoke coming from the Navy Yard, roiled orange flames just visible above the buildings blocking their view of the grounds.
“Good Lord,” he whispered. “Claire, please go back to the table. I need to go see what’s happening.”
“Father?” she said, and as it was so infrequent that she addressed him as such, he turned and looked at her.
“If you leave this place right now you’ll die.”
“What? What are you saying, Claire?” he said, fascinated by the faraway look in her eyes.
“The fire is spreading rapidly now. You won’t be safe.”
“Claire, to the table with you, now. Wait with your mother for my return.”
She turned to look at him as he left the building, but she had already seen the horse-drawn pumper unit that would run him down and kill him. She had seen the horses in a dream last night, just as she’d seen this fire. Hundreds of people would die in the next hour, but Charles would not be among them. No, he would escape immediate injury, then lead battalions of fire-fighters in a heroic charge to prevent the raging fire from spilling over into an ordnance depot. Days from now he would be hailed as the hero of the Navy Yard fire; his future in politics would be assured.
And Rupert would be gone.
As she sat at the table, she looked at her sisters and wondered how Amanda would react to the news.
(C) 2017 Adrian Leverkühn | abw | adrianleverkuhnwrites.com