Beware of Darkness, VII

BEWARE OF DARKNESS TITLE IMAGE 1 SM

A gentle piece full of the wind in your hair and, perhaps, the stuff of dreams.

Music? A little, if the spirit moves you:

Part VII

Coherent Light

Had I the heavens’ embroidered cloths,
Enwrought with golden and silver light,
The blue and the dim and the dark cloths
Of night and light and the half light,
I would spread the cloths under your feet:
But I, being poor, have only my dreams;
I have spread my dreams under your feet;
Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.

William Butler Yeats        Aedh Wishes for the Cloths of Heaven

There were errands to run, of course.

He needed to drop off all the rolls of Kodachrome he’d shot – on the Breithorn and on the Matterhorn – even if he wasn’t sure he’d ever be able to look at them.

He needed a car, too, but it had to be the perfect car, didn’t it? But what was the perfect car for a cross country road trip? Jordan wanted a Beemer, and of course it had to be a ragtop. Hans voted for a Mustang, preferably a ragtop, but whatever the choice it had to be, of course, blazing red, and it had to have a huge engine. Sherman was leaning towards a Volvo wagon, which prompted jeers and a solid round of boos from the peanut gallery, and that was while they were still at the Chart House.

Then, of course, the unexpected came calling. Again.

“The lawyer in Bern wanted me to give you this,” Hans said as he passed over an envelope. “He said it is important.”

And suddenly no one was laughing anymore.

Gene opened the letter and read through it once, all three pages, then he went back and read it again.

“What is it, Dad?”

“A note from Betty. She wasn’t close to her family, and these are her instructions. For the call, you might say.”

“You mean,” Hans asked, “they don’t know?”

Sherman shook his head and shrugged. “If the lawyers didn’t call then they probably have no clue. I don’t have any contact information and Betty said they only talked when Beth went down for a visit.”

“Which means,” Jordan sighed, “that Beth was close to the people there. Shit Dad, that blows.”

“Jordan?” Hans said. “You have a talent for understatement so already I like you. We will be simpatico, no? That is the correct word?”

“That’s the one,” Sherman sighed. “Well, fuck. I’m not drunk enough to make this call. At least not yet.”

“How many have you had, Dad?”

“Not enough.”

“You know,” Hans said to Jordan, “I am with your father for a week, maybe more, and I see him drink maybe one beer. And now this. Who would have thought this possible?”

“You obviously don’t know many navy pilots,” Sherman grinned. “I can puke and hit the ten ring from five meters.”

“What is this ten ring?” Hans asked.

“Never mind. I got to go phone a find,” Sherman said as he pushed himself up unsteadily from the chair, grabbing his cane as he stood. He wobbled a couple of times as he compensated for his left leg, then he marched off in the general direction of the front desk, and when their waiter came by Jordan asked for the check.

“So, no more drinks?” the boy asked.

“I think he’s had enough, don’t you?” 

The boy shrugged. “I haven’t ever seen anyone put down that much rum. Not ever.”

“Uh-oh, I think he is headed for the bathroom,” Hans cried, then came – a belated: “Oops!”

“I’ll go find a mop,” the kid sighed after he put their bill on the table.

+++++

He called Heather Sutherland later that evening, after a short nap and some coffee revived him enough to see the telephone. Still, he was not happy about having to make the call and was more than a little nervous when he dialed the number Betty had provided.

He asked for Heather Sutherland and introduced himself, then told her the nature of the call – and this was met with cold silence.

Then: “I know a little about what happened. A lawyer in Switzerland called and let us know she was gone, Beth too, but I don’t know the details.”

So Gene Sherman spent the next ten minutes going over his relationship to Betty, and Beth, and then the climb itself, which was met with incredulous shock.

“My sister climbed the Matterhorn? Are you serious?”

“I am. And your niece made the summit, too. It was really just a freak accident…”

“No such thing, Mr. Sherman. There’s no way she was qualified to make a climb like that, so I’d like to know what she doing up there?”

“Chasing a dream, Miss Sutherland.”

“What?”

“She told me she’d wanted to climb the Matterhorn ever since she was a kid, back at some camp in Estes Park…”

“You mean Cheley?”

“I suppose I do, yes. As a matter of fact, we’re headed that way in a couple of days. Betty and Beth wanted their ashes spread from on the summit of…”

“Don’t tell me, let me guess. Long’s Peak, right?”

“Yup.”

“And you’re gonna do it?”

“I am.”

“You flyin’ across, or drivin’?”

“Driving. Why?”

“I’d like to make that trip, if you can handle it.”

Sherman took a deep breath and leaned back on his sofa, closing his eyes then slowly letting all the air out. “Oh, sure, why the Hell not,” he sighed.

“Where are you? New York?” she asked.

“Boston. Recall I mentioned that Beth was a student of mine?”

“Oh, right. So you teach, huh, and that would be at MIT?”

“I do.”

“Then it’s Doctor Sherman, right?”

“Yup.”

“What do you teach, if you don’t mind my asking?”

“Astrophysics and Cosmology.”

“Well goodness, of course you do. Sorry, but I’m not really sure what either of those things mean.”

“Don’t feel bad. Neither do I.”

That was worth a laugh, and at least the sound of her laughter didn’t grate on his nerves too much.

“So, let me see if I can get a reservation and how ‘bout I call you right back?”

“I’ll be right here. And try for the day after tomorrow, or even the day after that. We’re still picking up the pieces over here.”

+++++

Early the next morning found the three of them, Jordan, Hans and Sherman, at a Cadillac dealer in Brookline, Mass, and there was a brand-spanking new Eldorado convertible just sitting there on the lot waiting for someone stupid enough to come along and snap it up. The beast was fire engine red with a sparkling white soft top and the soft tufted leather interior was white with red piping here and there.

“It’s a goddamn pimp-mobile!” Sherman whispered when he saw the thing. “All it needs is some shag carpet on the dash.”

“It’s perfect!” Hans cried.

Jordan’s eyes were saucer-like, full of disbelief. “Can’t we go to that BMW dealership down the street?” he pleaded – again. “This thing looks like something out of Thelma and Louise.”

“I don’t know, Jordan,” Sherman said, grinning sadistically. “Its kind of got something special going on, ya know?”

“Like what? Herpes? Or maybe a good case of the clap?”

“Exactly!” Sherman said as a salesman approached. 

“Want to take her out for a test drive?”

“Sure,” Sherman said. “Why the fuck not. Do you provide condoms, or should we bring our own?”

Jordan rolled his eyes. Hans started jumping up and down, just like any other five year old might. And somewhere up in the clouds Betty Cohen was probably getting ready to hurl a couple of thunderbolts at Gene Sherman.

+++++

They rode the T to a camera store while the car was readied for delivery, and Sherman picked up his slides from the climb, and while they were there Gene put the slides on a light table and Hans stood with him, slowly going through the stack and picking out the best shots. Then Sherman asked the tech if they could make some eight-by-tens of their selections by tomorrow, then, when the tech hesitated he decided to buy two new lenses for the Leica, a 21mm and a 75mm – “for the trip!” he said before they headed back to the dealership. The tech smiled and went to the darkroom.

The Caddie was hideous, exactly the kind of car a hooker would lust over, yet with the top down Sherman’s new car took on a completely different look…like now it looked like something made for a Gene Wilder – Richard Pryor movie. “Like Silver Streak, only this time the cross-country trip will take place in a full-blown pimp-mobile,” Sherman said. Jordan looked at the car like it carried the plague. Hans was in love – because the dealer had thrown in white pin-striping and the furry pink dice now hanging from the rear view mirror – and all at no extra charge.

So, Sherman drove the Caddie to his building and the parking attendant didn’t know what to say when he saw staid old Professor Sherman behind the wheel as it drove up and stopped.

“This yo car, Doc?”

“Sure is, Mal. Like it?”

“Like it? Like it? He-he. You boyz gonna go out looking for some girls tonight?”

“Nope. Road trip. Tomorrow.”

“No foolin’? Where y’all headin’?”

“Colorado, Mal. We’re going to the mountains. We’re gonna go climbing.”

“I thought you just come back from climbin’, Doc. You goin’ climbin’ again already?”

“Sure am, Mal. We all are, but first, it’s back to the Chart House, ‘cause we didn’t get near drunk enough last night.”

“You going for the record, Doc?”

Sherman smiled the smile of the condemned man walking to the gallows.

+++++

By the time he found Heather Sutherland and got her out of the baggage claim area and out to the car, she would have been happy to find Sherman had a rickshaw – but it seemed the red Caddie was a bridge too far.

“What the Hell is this!?” she cried when she saw the thing. 

“My new car,” Sherman said. “Like it?”

“Like it? Hell, I love it! You just get it?”

“Picked it up yesterday.”

“It’s perfect!” she bellowed, her southern accent so thick it made the hair on the back of Sherman’s neck stand on end. 

Jordan rolled his eyes when he heard what to him sounded like a rebel war cry.

“So, you ready to roll, or do you need to make a pit stop?” Gene asked, trying his level best not to stare at Heather Sutherland’s outlandish bouffant hairdo.

“Nope, ate some nuts on the plane so I’m ready to roll.”

“Okay, let’s get this road on the show,” he added after he got her suitcase loaded in the boot.

Hans and Jordan took the back seat; Gene hit a button on the dash and the top retracted, then it was on to the Mass Pike – westbound, with Hartford their first planned stop – for gas. Sherman continued to ignore Heather as best he could, but it wasn’t easy. Aside from the hair she looked just like Betty, but maybe that was because they were twins. Identical twins, as it turned out.

He handed her a big white envelope after they made it out of Boston, and she opened it and pulled out the pictures Gene had taken in Switzerland. She looked at each one for the longest time, lingering longest over images of Beth, and when he looked at her once she was crying just a little. She put the pictures away as they passed Sturbridge on their way to Hartford, then she turned to Gene Sherman and just stared at him for about twenty minutes, maybe like she was trying to memorize his features.

They stopped at a diner about halfway between Hartford and New York City and that was really the first opportunity they’d had to talk – because talking with the top down had proven almost impossible. And when he walked up the steps to open the door into the diner she realized Sherman had only one leg.

“Excuse me, but did you know you only have one leg?” she said, exasperated.

“No? Really? Gee, I never noticed that before.”

“I mean, Gene, you aren’t supposed to climb mountains with just one leg, are you?”

“You know the pictures you were just looking at? The ones on top of the Matterhorn?”

“Yes?”

“I took ‘em, Heather. All of ‘em. Any questions?”

“I am amazed, Gene Sherman,” she cooed, her accent a mix of Deep Carolina and Antebellum Georgia, kind of like a Dior gown covered in cream gravy, maybe with a side of fried okra.

“You and Betty? Twins, I take it?”

“Yes indeed. What was the first clue?”

Sherman grinned. “I’ve been trying my best not to stare. Sorry.”

“Dad?” Jordan said. “Are you saying Betty looked just like Heather?”

“Almost. You’re a little taller, right?”

She nodded. “By about an inch, and I’ve got more freckles, too.”

Sherman looked at her face and once again he tried not to stare. “Uncanny,” he whispered at last.

And Jordan could see the love his father had felt for Betty just then. In fact, anyone looking at the man sitting across from the woman at that table would have assumed he was very much in love with her. It was obvious, as obvious as it was incorrect.

Yet he found it curious that the Caddy’s top stayed up for the balance of that first day, and Jordan was able to listen as his father began to fill in all the blanks about the trip to Zermatt he’d missed so far. And, as it happened, this accidental son began to feel a sense of wonder as he listened to the many changes that came over his father as he spoke to Heather. It wasn’t really love, was it, but then again…what was lurking in their conversation if not love? An echo? Could it be that Heather was little more than an echo of her sister, and if that was so was it also possible that his father was speaking to this echo? And as he listened he thought, just for a moment really, that he was getting a handle on this whole love thing, but the complexities were subtle – though real enough to feel, even in the back seat of a pimp-mobile. Watching his father and Heather soon felt a little like watching a chemical reaction, or maybe even an electric discharge, though maybe in slow motion. But most of all, he soon realized, love was most like gravity. An uncertain, tentative gravity – true – but a force to be reckoned with – and ignored, he soon felt in his gut, at great peril.

At one point Jordan asked to see the pictures his father had taken up on the summit of the mountain and he looked at them again and again, one by one, but this time going slowly through each captured emotion, taking his time to see beyond the obvious. And in time Jordan studied everything he could about Betty and her eyes. While there really wasn’t a lot to see, besides all the obvious climbing gear, he most often found a studied determination on her face, yet when he focused on her eyes he thought he saw a deep, uncompromising love.

‘But of course she felt love,’ Jordan told himself. ‘She was looking at the photographer, at my father, so why wouldn’t she?’ Yet he saw other emotions in her eyes, as well. Subtle things, complex and confusing, too, like maybe the things only two lovers know about one another?

They stopped for the night outside of Pittsburgh and Jordan thought saw the same look in Heather’s eyes when she looked at his father, but he really wasn’t all that surprised. Chemistry, gravity, whatever you wanted to call this thing…he had to assume the look was the same here in Pittsburgh as it had been over there on top of that mountain. So he had to wonder – maybe because Jordan had just seen almost the very same impish, secretive look in Heather Sutherland’s eyes, why his father seemed almost happy. 

But that had to be a good thing, right?

Even if his father was listening to an echo?

+++++

Hans and Jordan sat up front on the second day of the trip, Hans proving to be a capable driver and Jordan an attentive listener. Heather and Sherman sat in the back seat, and once the sun was well over the horizon she asked that the top be retracted again, so for the next several hours they cut a swath through Ohio and Indiana, finally relenting and putting the top back up when the afternoon proved too warm and the insects too gooey. 

Jordan tried to keep an eye on his father but with the top down that proved impossible, so he passed the time talking with Hans as best he could, usually about climbing, but they also talked about the places they liked to ski. It turned out the only time he got to listen to Heather and his dad that day was when they stopped to eat, and he learned that Heather was a lawyer practicing in Charleston and that she like the mountains too. She had recently hiked the entire Appalachian Trail over the course of two autumn treks, and he began to think of her as a little more complex than he had initially thought. And of course Heather had gone to the same summer camp in Estes Park that both Betty and Beth had, and that she too had climbed Long’s Peak. Twice, as a matter of fact, but not the Diamond Face. Sane people, she said, didn’t tackle that face.

Jordan handled the driving chores that afternoon, and they wound up stopping on the east side of Kansas City. Sherman was unusually quiet that evening, and Jordan could tell something had changed over the course of the day. An unseen switch had tripped somewhere in the afternoon, and the train had changed directions, because his dad seemed distracted and almost distant when they sat down for dinner. Heather, too, seemed different.

Then it hit him.

Heather and his dad were acting just like teenagers. Maybe like they were trying to hide something big…from…who? Him?

And sure enough, about an hour after lights out his father slipped out of their room and he didn’t come back. When Jordan and Hans finally woke up the next morning they found a note from Sherman telling them to come to the restaurant across the parking lot and join them for breakfast, and they both grinned.

“Maybe this will end up being a good trip for your father, you know?”

“Yeah. Maybe. Don’t you think it might be too soon to get involved again?”

Hans had stopped brushing his teeth and seemed to consider an answer, then he shook his head and started brushing again.

“What’s wrong, Hans?”

“Does something feel strange today? To you I mean…does it feel strange? Like we have been here before maybe?”

“I felt something weird last night at dinner. I kept thinking something felt like an echo.”

“An echo. Yes, that is what I was thinking. Exactly so, yes.”

And it was the same at breakfast. Jordan’s father was doing his best not to act like a sixteen year old who had just done the deed for the first time, and Heather appeared to be even more distanced and distracted than she had been at dinner the evening before. Everyone ate a big breakfast then they loaded up in the Beast, as Hans had taken to calling the Caddy, with Heather driving now, Gene riding shotgun, and the boys in back. Heather, of course, had put the top down before they left the parking lot.

“So, where to today, Professor?” Hans asked, looking at the big book-like road atlas, now spread open to show all of Kansas.

“We ought to make Estes Park today, but we won’t get in ’til late if we do.”

“Why don’t we stop early,” Heather said, “and maybe not beat ourselves into the ground?”

“What?” Gene sighed. “You mean…like Sherman’s march to the sea?”

“Exactly,” she said. “We need to find a place with a nice pool to just lay back and relax for a day.”

So the next time they pulled off the highway for gas, Sherman made a few calls.

“So? Did you find something for us?” Heather asked, her smile wicked enough to scare the shit out of Scarlett O’Hara.

“I’ll never tell,” Gene said, grinning as echoes danced all around them, all like ghosts in the walls.

+++++

The little group made a slight detour, to Colorado Springs, and they ‘camped out’ at the Broadmoor Hotel for a couple of days. They ice-skated the next morning and then went swimming under the hot noonday sun, and on a lark they hopped in The Beast and drove over to The Garden of the Gods, getting out and walking a few of the most popular trails, even running across a pleasant little rattlesnake along the Cathedral Valley trail. And Jordan hung back a little on these walks, now more than ever a little perplexed because these echoes were – if that’s what they were and if something like these were even possible – growing stronger and stronger, as if the closer the group came to Estes Park, and to Long’s Peak, the more intense these echoes became.

+++++

“Man, look at all those stars!” Jordan said, his voice now husky with excited anticipation. “It almost looks like you could reach out and grab onto one, ya know!”

Sherman looked up and nodded. “It’s colder than I expected,” exhaling and looking for vapor. “Too dry,” he added.

“I am surprised so many people are here already,” Hans said.

It was just after three in the morning and they’d left the Long’s Peak trailhead parking lot for their ascent about ten minutes earlier. They carried daypacks large enough to stow the layers of clothes needed, and Hans had insisted on bringing along crampons and rope – just in case. Heather had made sandwiches to enjoy on the summit, with black forest ham, Dijon mustard and Gruyere cheese on pumpernickel her weapon of choice, and though she’d made two for everyone she was pretty sure that wouldn’t be enough so she packed a couple more. This was a nine mile walk and climb and out of necessity the trek was made on an empty stomach, because starting out at nine thousand feet and ending up over fourteen thousand, a full stomach used up too much vital oxygen, especially on the long trek up the Boulder Field, so it was considered best to wait and eat on the summit.

And Gene Sherman carried Beth and Betty Cohen in the bottom of his backpack. He would be responsible for them once again, and see them to their final rest – as he’d promised to do – ‘if something happens…’

And because something had happened he was on this trail, making this one last climb. Because he was sure now this would be the last time he ever set for on a mountain. Talking with Heather for the past few days had been a necessary part of this journey, but in the end she had proven to be little more than an unexpected diversion. She was indeed beautiful, perhaps even more so than Betty, and she was an articulate, energetic dynamo, opinionated in the extreme but even so a decent listener. She’d also been married – twice – and had just broken up with a boyfriend after three years of living together, and it wasn’t hard to understand why. She’d been raised in a hyper-competitive family and was chronically insecure – and in ways Betty never had been, because Betty had been the winner. Betty made it into Dartmouth, Heather had just made it into Clemson. Betty went straight to medical school at Columbia while Heather took a year off after graduating – because her board scores weren’t good enough to make it into a decent law school.

And she was still competing with Betty even now, always trying to sell herself as the more accomplished, and Sherman knew where any relationship with her would end up. It took a few days but she was transparent enough, and after their stay at the Broadmoor he started spending more time with Jordan. And she was bright enough to know the score, to move on gracefully.

And Sherman didn’t feel any sense of loss, despite the sudden fall. He liked her, well enough to want to keep in touch with her when all this was over and put away for good, and he didn’t have any lingering issues with her now that they were on the trail. On the contrary, she had been telling them about the summers she and Betty had spent at Cheley, about the many mountains in the park they’d climbed together and the trail horses they ridden to secluded campsites high up in the surrounding mountains. Tales of camping in covered wagons and roasting hot dogs on sticks over roaring campfires, and of fishing for trout in high alpine lakes then dipping the cleaned fish in cornmeal and frying them in butter.

She was, when all was said and done, a good companion to have along on the trip. Life, too…maybe…if she could ever let go…of the past…

The trail was relatively flat at first, but then a series of sharp switchbacks took them up out of the pine forests and onto tougher, boulder-strewn terrain, and their headlamps illuminated the sandy-dirt trail as it wound around large boulders dotting the grassy landscape. They talked less as they gained altitude, and by the time the first amber traces of dawn arrived they were well into the Boulder Field. There was no grass here, and rarely enough dirt for even the strongest wildflower, but there were rocks. There were boulders as big as cars up here, and some that were merely the size of a small cow, but now the trail pointed relentlessly up. There were no more switchbacks, not even a trail now, just trail markings pointing out the way up through the boulders.

And maybe because of his leg  Gene Sherman was content to let Hans and Heather lead the way now, and he followed Jordan, too, watching all these people who had come together to celebrate the life and death of the two people he now knew would be the only two people he would ever really love.

He watched Jordan and tried to understand the boy’s life as anything other than an echo of his own. Essentially born and raised by his parents and a girl who probably had no real idea how she’d been manipulated, Jordan had been the glue that held his parents together after he left home.The question rattling around in Sherman’s mind was simpler still: knowing that he was soon leaving home, had his father kept Beverly around as a ‘babysitter’ so that, well, so that she could have a baby? A blood relative, what would amount to another son?

It wasn’t beyond his father, he knew. 

Maybe his father had toyed with the idea of fathering a child with Beverly, but perhaps he recognized the dangers to his marriage if he did. Using his own son to get Beverly pregnant, on the other hand, ensured that his wife would be an enthusiastic participant in the scheme. And that also explained why his parents had kept Jordan out of sight until after his own father passed. Dead men tell no tales, right?

His mind set adrift against this raging sea of rocks, he slowly played in the countercurrents of thoughts like these, not really sure where these swirling interpretations of his life were taking him, only accepting that he – somehow – needed to be thinking about these things. 

So by the time the sun began to show itself he was like a castaway washing up on an unknown shore. Alone and not really sure of anything anymore, it dawned on him that of all the people with him now, he’d known Hans the longest. Hans had taken part in the most momentous moments of his life; indeed, without Hans perhaps he too would have perished on the mountain.

He sighed inwardly, wishing there was some way to turn off his mind, to stop the endless flow of tortured ideas from washing through his conscious thoughts, but just then he felt besieged by a shimmering assault of memory. No, what he felt now was more like a series of echoes, but of…what?

“Dad! Look at the horizon!”

He looked up, saw Jordan pointing to the east, so he turned and looked…

…and furious echoes of the sunrise on the Matterhorn slammed into him, pushing all other thought from his mind. He was aware, for a moment, that he was looking out over Loveland and the great prairie beyond Interstate 25, yet he felt the rope in his hand from the Matterhorn climb, then of steadying himself against the ridge while he pulled his camera from his pack, then composing images, setting the aperture and shutter speed and fiddling with the focus to get everything how he wanted it to be, then he looked around and saw he was standing in a field of boulders and that some strange kid was calling him ‘dad’ and none of it made the slightest sense to him…

“Dad? You alright? The altitude getting to you?”

He shook his head, tried to clear the cobwebs, and then he recognized Betty up ahead…

‘…but that’s not right…she’s coming up from below, under Pete and Beth…and what’s she doing with Hans…?’

“What the fuck is going on?” Hans screamed as he fell to he knees, and then Heather bent down to help him.

“Dad? What’s going on? What’s happening to you? Hans? What’s going on?”

He realized he was on his knees, hanging on to a…to a rock…clinging to it…hanging on for dear life…

…and then he was falling…and all he could see far below was the sea…

© 2021 adrian leverkühn | abw | adrianleverkuhnwrites.com | this is a work of fiction, pure and simple. All rights reserved.

5 thoughts on “Beware of Darkness, VII

    • Funny-interesting, as I was listening to Nillson last weekend while writing, along with 99 Miles From LA and a bunch of older solo Paul Simon tunes.
      I’ve included these songs as part of Music Matters for a while, yet mainly to be transparent and not to entertain. What we listen to can define our mood (or is it vice-versa?), and while I used to play the piano as I wrote that has become more difficult lately, so less productive. Helpful? I don’t know, but I hope it provides a little insight – if indeed insight is either needed or desired. Presumptuous on my part, most likely.

      Like

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