A Neverwas by Veronika Kálnová
But dreams are nothing more than wishes
- Harry Nilson, The Puppy Song
Mr Darcy was an elderly man. He was wearing a thick blue sweater that morning. He also had a red and a black one, but it was Monday, and he felt a bit miserable again. However, he had got used to that feeling as he had got used to that heavy sweater, which didn’t feel very pleasant on bare skin. He looked at the fob watch he kept in his trousers since the sweater didn’t have a pocket. Ten o’clock on Monday was a high time to have a cup of coffee, one of his favourite habitual treats.
He raised his voice and called Muriel. She entered the room immediately. Mr. Darcy had a good reason to suspect that she had been sneaking by the door. She fixed her white folded skirt and asked with the sweetest voice she could muster what was going on. Having his GP’s advice on mind, Mr Darcy asked her to do her master a favour and make him a nice cup of coffee. “A little less sugar than usual,” he added. “But pour some more milk instead.” Fifty-fifty. Muriel knew he liked it that way.
Mr Darcy stood by the only window in his room and devoted a bit of time to his daily contemplations on his resentment against the place he had to live in. Oh, he still remembered the times when, as a young boy, he fantasized about his future. He had never thought he would end up in such a lousy place, but he knew the times were bad and so he had to do without the comfort he was so proudly used to. He was also grateful for Muriel and her altruistic readiness to satisfy his needs. If it was up to him, he would have a big house with an apple orchard in the back and a big family. ‘Family?’ He almost choked on that last word. It had always been the very last thing on his mind.
Being a little upset, he took his diary from under his bed, where he had been protecting it from Muriel’s ubiquity and curiosity. ‘Old Whisperer’ – that’s what he and his neighbours would call her. They weren’t really mad at her, as she came in handy at times. They thought it was the lot of an elderly lady living in a male household to gather and share little gossips with her friends over a cup of tea. As he was holding the diary in his left hand and the coffee in his right one, it occurred to him what might happen if he spilled the content of the cup on the cover of the booklet. Alas! His inquisitiveness was faster than his judgment again. ‘Bloody old fool!’ he moaned. Sitting in an armchair and browsing through the coffee-stained pages, he found the note he had been looking for. ‘MO 11.00-ROBERT.’ His heart started beating faster. Excitement made him remain seated a bit longer than usual. He was meeting Robert in half an hour. Robert was his best friend at that time.
The most common purpose of having a best friend is to be helped in need. And Mr Darcy needed help, indeed. How precious it is to have an understanding friend! Mr Darcy knew Robert’s value very well. He was not just a pastime friend – he was more than that. Always snowed under with piles of books, paperwork, charts, reports and directions. How precious it is to have a friend who, despite being such a busy person, is always willing to have a chat with his old buddy! The fact that he was to meet Robert in his office didn’t bother Mr Darcy at all, as the place was very close to where he lived. The last time they met, Robert had insisted on Mr Darcy finding out what was going on. There was always something going on; otherwise the two of them would never meet. Mr Darcy was grateful for such a well-read, intelligent and helpful friend. He was also grateful for the long conversations they had – about Oscar Wilde, Roald Dahl, Fellini’s films, Michelangelo’s statues...
Yet he was startled when Robert asked him about his love life sometime last week. They had never talked about anything personal. Although they saw each other quite often, they didn’t know anything about each other’s families, educational background or previous occupations. It wasn’t very clear to Mr Darcy what Robert did for a living.
That was the beauty of their friendship and Mr Darcy was so tolerant that he had never bothered his friend with any questions that could put him off. And trust me, there were plenty of things that had the potential. After one unpleasant incident, Robert would never ask anything private again, so Mr Darcy thought he wasn’t interested anymore. And vice versa. When two educated people meet (and Mr Darcy considered his friend to be learned) , they leave all their problems, troubles and grievances behind, and they seize the moment – the moment when they have a chance to exchange their opinions about art, politics, history, economy, law... What lovely topics to talk about!
And then, he had to ask that damned question. And she’s back – back on his mind.
Mr Darcy had to sit on the nearest bench. He was already on his way to his friend’s place, and his heart started breaking out of his chest. He closed his eyes for a while, and when he opened them, the grass, the early spring flowers and the trees were spinning around. He could barely make out two figures, both dressed in white, running to help him. His guardian angels. He felt dizzy, almost like vomiting. He wanted to get up to his feet, but there was something that was pushing him back on the bench. “Pills, pills,” he groaned. He had forgotten to take the pills which Muriel had left for him on his bedside cabinet. It was the first time that Muriel had walked out of his room without checking whether her master had obeyed and swallowed his daily dose. “She wants to kill me! She wants to get rid of me!” he mumbled, shedding tears and placing his right hand where his heart was. Such an empty space, he thought.
“Robert! Robert! Is that you?” he gasped as he noticed that there was a man watching him with a dull look in his face. “Go and fetch Robert! Go!” he shrieked, but the man ran away.
It took him some time to calm down, and then he saw Robert. His heart was throbbing, but it wasn’t as bad as it was several minutes ago. Robert came closer, and Mr Darcy thought he was dreaming. Robert had come accompanied by one of his angels. He can’t be mad. It must have been the pills his doctor had prescribed. Was he really so addicted that he couldn’t control himself without the pills? The answer came along with Robert’s presence.
Robert nodded, sat next to him and clutched at his shoulder.
“Are you alright?” Robert asked coldly, and Mr Darcy could hardly get a greeting out. He felt even more miserable than before. Robert handed him a bottle of water, and Mr Darcy took a sip. He turned his head to Robert, but he didn’t return the look. He was gazing at the trees and rubbing his hands impatiently instead.
“I thought we’re having a meeting today,” Mr Darcy broke the silence.
“Oh yes, we are,” Robert assured him with a pleasant voice. “I saw you through the window and got frightened that there was something wrong with you when you sat on this bench. You never sit on a bench, do you?” Robert smiled.
“No, I don’t,” said Mr Darcy somewhat bitterly. “I don’t want to distract you from your work. I know it’s important to you.”
“Don’t worry. My clients will wait,” said Robert.
“I was thinking, Robert,” said Mr Darcy. Robert gave him a surprised look, and Mr Darcy knew there was a reason.
“Do you remember our last meeting? The one when I confessed to admiring 19th-century female authors?”
“Oh yes, sure,” replied Robert.
“Jane Austen, such a loveable person. Wrote hundreds of books about love, but never married. She lived that feeling just in her mind and experienced hundreds of love stories through her heroines,” Mr Darcy sighed. “Anyways, I shall not hide my surprise at your question about my love life. It was not interesting, but it was important.”
“Go on,” Robert encouraged him. “Why was it not interesting but important?”
“Let me continue,” said Mr Darcy. “I knew a girl once.”
He had done it. For the first time in his life he had admitted having a crush. He had always thought it was not allowable for a man of his rank to reveal his emotions to other people, but he did so. He knew that the girl might somehow be at fault and responsible for all of his problems. He had made up his mind. It was now or never.
“I was twenty-five back then,” he spoke out, and his voice was shaking. “It was shortly after the war, and she moved with her family to Scotland. She-she-she-she was an ordinary girl from Germany. My father allowed her parents to take care of our horses, so her whole family moved into a house that was on our land. Meeting her was like a dream come true. I had known lots of pretty girls and mature women, but she was different. She was my dream come true. It was summer, so I didn’t have to go to school, and I could spend as much time with her as I wanted.”
“How did you spend your time together?” asked Robert.
“Well, talking, mainly. She wanted to know about my school. She was the only one paying any attention to me. My parents didn’t care about me. I was the eldest son, and I had three more brothers and sisters. And two sisters were going to get married. They also had to look after their business, as I refused to get involved in it and chose to devote my life to studies, which was just the beginning of our disputes.”
“What was her name?” Robert interrupted him.
“Elizabeth? Liz, Lizzy?” Mr Darcy was startled. “I’m not sure. It’s been such a long time since I thought of her. But trust me, it’s better for me to not to think of her.” Teardrops glistened in his eyes as he was saying that.
“Please, calm down. And if you don’t mind, you can continue. I’m all ears. You know you can tell me anything – anything,” emphasized Robert. “I suggest we walk a bit around the park. What do you say? Great!” He smiled as Mr. Darcy didn’t protest.
“So, I wonder what was so special about that girl. You said you had just talked. Was she your lover then?”
“Oh yes, she was everything I wanted her to be. She laughed with me, we shared the same opinions, we agreed on everything – everything. She loved it when I was talking about dead poets she had never had a chance to learn. She loved me. I knew I could take her anywhere with me since she didn’t make any objections. She fell for whatever place I showed her. She was a true friend. She was always there when I needed her.”
“What was she like?”
“I remember her being always cheerful and optimistic. She was very family oriented. She always kept running away from me, but then she came back to listen to my stories again.”
“And how did you pay back her attention? Because now it seems to me that your affection was a bit selfish. But I might be wrong,” said Robert.
“No, no, no, no, no.” Mr Darcy raised his voice. “She was a poor girl, I think, very simple, whatever I told her, she would nod her head, she went wherever I wanted her to be. Well, it was quite easy to satisfy her because the only thing she wanted was ME.”
“And is that the reason why you consider your love life as not too interesting?”
“Partly. Partly. But then it was the end of summer, and I had to return to school, and I couldn’t think of her anymore since I had so many things to think of instead. When I came back home in winter I found out that she and her family didn’t live on our estate anymore. Whoever I asked, nobody remembered a German family taking care of the horses my father loved so much. I know it was my father who banished them. I know it. He must have known about our relationship, and he didn’t like it, Robert. He bribed the servants to lie to me whenever I asked about them. He was such a proud man that he had the heart to deceive his eldest son just because I had decided to devote my life elsewhere as he and my mother had planned for me.”
“I don’t think that was the reason,” Robert cut in.
“I can’t think of her anymore. Please, take me home to Muriel and never ask me about her again,” said Mr Darcy resentfully.
Robert came back to his office and took a file out of his cabinet. It was the thinnest, but it contained the most remarkable notes, comments, photos and records of interviews. It was full of confidential information about Ian Emmerson, a highly honoured scholar from Edinburgh. Robert looked at each piece of paper carefully and took notes. Then he started reading:
- So, Mr Emmerson -
- It’s Darcy.
- Oh yes, I’m sorry. Muriel, your nurse, has just notified me that you are having bad dreams these days – or nights, to be correct. Is that true?
- Yes, it is.
- What do you think? Are they important?
- I can’t tell. I hate to think in general. I hate to think of anything.
- What do you mean?
- If I think of anything that is worrying me, I want to know the reason. I always have to know the reason why something has happened to ME. Everything that happens is for a reason, and people around me are malevolent, and it is often very hard for me to figure out what their motivation is.
- Don’t bother your mind that much. I hope you understand ‘the reason’ why your family decided to hospitalize you here in our institute.
- No, no, no, no, no! No, no, no! They thought they knew what was best for me. They killed HER!
- Who do you mean by HER?
- No, I’ll only tell you about the dreams that keep recurring, and then I’ll go back. Do you understand?
- Yes, sure. Go ahead.
- Alright then. They always start like that: I arrive at a mysterious place and try my best not to panic. I reach for the door knob, but then I realize that there is somebody holding it and trying really hard to keep me away from the house.
- Are there any windows in that house?
- Yes, there are.
- And what can you see?
- I can see an old cupboard.
- A cupboard, you say?
- Yes, I can see a cupboard. And I give up and step outside the porch and look up. I notice that there is somebody watching me from the window on the second floor. And then I become more nervous even though I’m not facing the person that is watching me yet. I think there must be something inside that house that I mustn’t see. I wait in the garden for a while, but then I find an alley that is leading to an apple orchard. The trees in that orchard are high and fruitless. I think it’s spring because I remember white flowers and petals flying everywhere in the air. There is nobody I can talk to or ask about what is locked in that damned house. And then I climb up the highest tree to see whether the cottage is visible. Fortunately, it is, and there is a window open and somebody is looking at the fence that surrounds the whole estate. And then in the morning, I jump off the tree and I approach the house, but I still can’t open the door. And all of a sudden, I catch a glimpse of the person holding he door... It’s me.
- Ok, now please take a deep breath and try to think of anything you would wish to find in that cupboard. What is it?
- I-I-I think it’s a knife.
- For what purpose do you usually use such a knife?
- For cutting an apple pie.
- By the way, do you know what an apple symbolizes?
- An apple? I don’t know. Is it not a symbol of knowledge? Or temptation maybe? I don’t really know.
- Basically, you’re right. It’s a symbol of immortality as well.
And then the phone rang, and Dr Robert answered it. The phone call was very short, but it gave him a great shock. His hands were shaking terribly as he hung up. Mr Emmerson had just committed a suicide. He had stabbed a coffee spoon into his heart.
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