They are watching you, Theodore Wainwright the 3rd. They can see the love and anticipation in your eyes and in your demeanour, as you turn your smart new car, Jaguar, black and sleek, into the driveway through the security gates of your mansion; what need will you have for one in Heaven? The car purrs and crunches to a stop outside the garage door as you bleep it open with a remote control. You steer it in and They follow your movements as you caress the steering wheel before vacating and locking the car doors, turning a last time to admire its beauty.
They observe you as you unlock your magnificent front door; heavy carved oak and black ironwork. But no welcoming arms rush to greet you, no children whoop towards you as your key turns in the lock, not even a dog yaps in delirium at your homecoming. Be careful, Theodore Wainwright the 3rd, loneliness can curl in the heart like a worm in an apple, sucking out hope and leaving it hollow. There was a woman, once, long ago, possessed by you, but children, never. They cannot be wholly possessed.
Your passionate attachments and longings are for your acquisitions; to touch, to devour with your eyes. Not even your ‘woman that does’ is allowed out of the kitchen where she cooks your meals and sees to your laundry, apart from on Saturdays when you escort her to the bathroom, where she cleans your toilet. To do that is beneath you. But your prized possessions; your paintings, your books, your collections of glassware and ceramics, they are deserving of your touch – you clean them slowly and methodically, loving the feel of the leather bindings of the books, the mildewed smell of first editions, bringing up a shine on the Murano glass you had imported from Venice, dusting the Ming, Limoges and other pieces that caught your fancy in Sotheby’s. As you wipe the glass on your collection of original paintings you admire each one, not for its intrinsic beauty, but because it belongs to you. Each brush-stroke torn from the painter’s soul for you to acquire.
But They are watching you, Theodore Wainwright the 3rd. They know how pretentious you are, how you added the 3rd after your name though you are the first – Theodore being the name of your maternal grandfather, fresh from Constantinople with nothing but the clothes he stood up in and a few pounds in his pocket. But he was happy, surrounded by a large family, the Greek way. Are you happy Theodore the 3rd, miscegenate extraordinaire? You have no family. The family you once had, has abandoned you, bored by witterings about yet another acquisition. But what good are roots? You ask. They are usually gnarled and twisted. You can get stuck in the rut of your roots if you are not careful.
You eat alone at the dining table crafted for banquets. You sit in your smoking jacket, though you don’t smoke, warming a crystal bowl of Napoleon brandy, though you dislike the taste. Later, in a room wallpapered in books, you leaf through a first edition whose contents don’t really interest you, only the price you paid for it.
Before you retire to your lonely four-poster bed, you set your security locks, then stop at each painting along the sombre hall and up the graceful staircase, thanking ‘whoever’ for how fortunate a man you are. But They don’t agree with you. They are planning to take you away and there’s nothing you can do to stop Them. Once Their choice has been made there’s no turning back. You will not be able to wrench yourself away from Them.
A storm clenches your mausoleum of a mansion in its fist the night They arrive. They drive up in a small van, a bicycle in the back, nothing fancy, a straightforward, honest to God, 3-speed, men’s cycle. That will be your only mode of transport now, Theodore Wainwright. They ignore the tears that fountain down your pudgy face as They tell you to choose three books, only three from a collection of over three thousand? You don’t have a lot of time to choose. You choose the Bible, not because you believe in God, but because your family tree is inscribed in the front though it stops abruptly at your name. You are surprised that you care about your family tree. Where has that come from? Your second choice is the complete works of Shakespeare. In your feeble little mind, now febrile with terror, you think you are cheating Them. It is not one book but a combination of many. You hope They can’t read your cunning mind. They don’t demur so you grab the complete works of Kazantzakis, a book given to you long ago by your Anglo-Greek mother.
They tell you to choose one painting, giving you time to walk around and select. Individually, they mean little to you. It is the accumulated worth of your collection that excites you. Then, tucked away in a corner of a little-used room you find the one you want. The first you ever bought, of a then unknown artist. You bought it when you could ill-afford it, because you liked it for its artistry. You admired the stag standing proud in a pink-grey hazy rain, a phallic slash of black paint across the whole, a stroke of anger at the brutality of stag hunting, the artist had told you. You take it off its hook and carry it to the hall where They are waiting to take you away.
You let out a tremendous sigh as you look back at your mansion, at your car, as They drive you away in their little van. You are seated in the back turned away from Them. You lean against the bicycle wondering how you will ride it, you were an enthusiastic boy the last time you rode a bike. The books perch on your fleshy knees, the painting in a holdall by your side. A holdall; you play with the word or words in your mind, the books would fit. It would hold all your possessions now, apart from the bicycle. Your mind is focused on these inconsequential thoughts as you can’t bear to think past this journey. Somewhere an invisible barrier has been crossed and you are no longer departing but arriving.
Are They still watching you, Theodore Wainwright, (not the 3rd), as you cycle towards your basement flat? You have dropped the pretentious title. How can you be the 3rd of anything living in this squalid place with its mephitic stench? Carefully, if not lovingly, you carry your only means of transport down the steps into the tiny hallway. You are obsessively careful with the bike, the alternative, having to walk, is unthinkable.
You let yourself into your tiny living room, where the walls peel like the wallpaper of a blitzed room in the rain. Immediately you go to the little shelf, which holds your three books. You pick each up, stroke the covers, bring them up to your nose so that you can smell them. Then, clutching a bottle of beer, you sit in your only armchair near the flames of an electric fire which licks indestructible coals, admiring your prized possession, your painting, no longer seeing its beauty which first attracted your attention all those years ago, but thinking of how valuable it is becoming each day as the artist becomes more and more recognized. You are still friendless. Did you ever have any friends?
Age has done you no favours; jowly face, oystery flesh. You are unable to cook much, no one to cook for you now, so a poor diet of junk food has expanded your waistline making you almost as broad as you are tall. Polyester suit and cheap shoes do nothing for you in the eyes of a woman you may chance to meet. You believe They have been watching you again. Realise you have grown careless and obsessive about your diminished but loved possessions. A reproduction Ming vase you found at a car boot sale takes pride of place on your Formica kitchen table which is ornamented with glutinous rings made by years of cups and mugs. But there isn’t much They can do to you now, is there? How much lower can you sink?
This was not how you expected to spend your retirement, was it, Theo? They came in the little van and took away your bicycle, books, everything. All They allowed you to keep was the Bible. You have an oasis of free time now, to push your old supermarket trolley around the streets; their wheels make a plangeant twang like jazz percussion. All your worldly possessions are in the trolley; a change of clothes, a wash bag and razor, although you don’t bother to shave now. You are almost unrecognisable with your thick beard and long straggly hair, or what’s left of it, tied back into an ageing hippy ponytail.
You have become gaunt, the fat falling away as you endlessly walk the streets. You wouldn’t admit it, but you feel better, physically than you ever have. A Delphic calm seems to have settled on you like an old coat. Remember the doorway you started to become possessive about? How you cardboarded it for extra comfort? It was down a quiet side street, deep enough to keep out of the whirring wind and rain. A veritable mansion to street people. You made a wise decision, consciously not returning night after night, saving it for the worst of the weather. And though you haven’t made any friends as such, you do feel that you belong to a community for the first time in your adult life. And where did that dog come from that follows you faithfully from park bench to park bench and loves you unconditionally whether you feed him or not? He keeps your body warm at night; he has warmed your heart as no other was ever able to do. You love him unashamedly; he is your only reason for being. You are careful not to call him ‘my’ dog. You do not possess him. They are watching you.
Wendy Holborow was born and now lives back in the south of Wales, but lived in Greece for fourteen years, where she founded and co-edited Poetry Greece. She has won prizes for her short stories, notably the Philip Good Memorial Prize, The Aber Valley Competition, The Island Magazine and most recently a first prize in the Allen Rayne competition. Her stories have appeared in numerous journals. She has recently completed a Master’s degree in Creative Writing at Swansea University. She has ten poetry collections published to date, two children’s novels and a short story collection, Dusking Through Waves to be published shortly.