Kicking around this idea.
I have a couple who are bound together by true love, yet the man remains distant and remote, even though his heart clearly belongs to her.
There are several ways that this particular story can end between them. They are minor, yet important, characters in CounterClockwise, and I’m wondering about how to finally resolve things between them.
Sadly? Tragically? Happily? I have no idea as yet!
Here’s a rough draft of the “Sadly” version –
Marigolds filled big green pots situated at regular intervals on the wraparound porch, and a double-door entry was painted dark red. The click-clack of Nora’s heels on the wood floor bounced off the ceiling and echoed around the corners of the porch. She felt as though she was creating a major ruckus in a place that seemed silent as the grave.
The polished brass doornob turned with a squeak – making it obvious that they received few visitors here – and the door stuck for a moment before giving way.
A balding and bespectacled man with a surprisingly young face looked up at Nora from behind a large front desk and smiled. “Good morning, ma’m. May I help you?”
She smiled back. His sweet Southern drawl pulled out the “ma’m” into what almost sounded like a song. “Yes. I’m hoping that I can see Mr. Tracy Allen.”
The clerk’s smile evaporated. “Oh. I see.” He pulled a file out from a drawer and opened it. “Yes. Mr. Allen does receive visitors. But I’ll have to clear it with the head nurse first. Your name, please?”
“Nora Wells. Mrs. Nora Wells.”
Once again the prematurely bald man smiled at her and politely excused himself to go speak with the nurse in charge.
Nora seated herself on a large, overstuffed sofa. A small dust cloud shot up as soon as she touched the cushions and made her wonder how long it had been since this place had seen any visitors. Sweet Oaks Rest And Recovery Home was the name of it, and it had taken her all of five years to find.
She glanced down at the fashionable diamond watch pinned to the outside of her overcoat and saw that it was in fact already past 10:00AM. It had been a long train ride yesterday – more than seven hours including the stop in Atlanta – before she reached the tiny inn a few miles away from Sweet Oaks.
Her schedule had been hectic, especially of late, and she had become very much in demand as a guest speaker at charitable organizations around the United States and abroad as well. She loved travel so it was a blessing she gave thanks for every day. And after spending so many years alone, it was refreshing to have her own network of business associates and to be part of so many exciting fundraisers.
Nora Wells had succeeded at not only raising enough funds to competely rebuild three orphanages in New York City, but went on to build new orphanages and hospitals in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Vermont, North Carolina, Tennessee and Kentucky. One just outside of Atlanta was the newest on her list and was the first for her in the state of Georgia.
And that was how she heard a name mentioned. One that she had not heard anyone say – nor did she utter it herself- in quite a few years. Five to be exact. Since that rainy night on a street corner in New York City, when she saw him kissing another woman and she flew into a rage that rivaled the most savage shrew on Earth.
Tracy Douglas Allen. The country boy ladies loved to love. Had been lying to her all along. Making love to her, swearing she was the gift from God he had waited for his whole life, and further swearing he’d be true to her until his dying day, had been playing a part. Like when he performed before an audience. And it had broken her heart into so many small pieces Nora doubted she would ever feel anything for anyone again. So far she had not.
And so instead of dwelling on her disappointment, she threw herself into her work, calling in favors and using the almost unnatural beauty she still posessed in her fifties to gain entry into parlors and meeting rooms of people both influential and wealthy enough to make her fundraisers successful. And she become known as having the magic touch for charities up and down the East Coast.
“Mrs. Wells?” The clerk said her name once again, this time frowning.
Nora had been lost in her daydream. Lost in a foggy, almost faded memory of a time and a man and a love that she once believed would last forever. “Yes? I’m sorry. It was a very long train ride here yesterday and I had early to business to attend to this morning.”
The clerk smiled. He was a good looking young man. Too bad he had already lost most of his hair. He couldn’t be more than thiry. “I understand. We are a bit off the beaten path here at Sweet Oaks.” He was standing next to where she sat on the sofa and extended his hand to her with quite a bit of elegance. The fact that he came from a good family – one that had fallen into financial ruin that forced him to accept a clerk’s position – was apparent. “Please come with me.” Nora accepted his hand and stood up, following him down the long hall.
Despite the time of day, the hallway was dark and like the entire home it smelled rather musty. Once again it seemed to Nora that she must be the first visitor to come to this place in years. Besides the thick air of silence, the dust and cobwebs were visible in the corners of the high ceilings and one especially large web was right above the door they stopped in front of.
“This is Mr. Allen’s suite.” The clerk noticed Nora looking up at the spider web. “We have a problem with spiders. And mice. Funding is not what it should be here, I’m embarassed to say, and so our maid staff is also not what it should be.” He smiled. “But do not fear. We feed our residents very well. Food supplies come here every week from generous plantation owners in the area.” Nora nodded politely and walked through the door the clerk ceremoniously held open.
A bit of morning sun was still coming in through the East-facing windows in the room. Not surprising to Nora at this point, more clouds of dust did a kind of swirling dance in the light.
The suite itself was minimally decorated and what was there was faded and worn. Two chairs and a substantial-looking wood table were situated on one side of the room, and a small sofa (that had seen better days) flanked by two chipped and scratched side-tables, was on the other.
In front of the two large, floor-to-ceiling windows, which despite the dust and dirt were beautifully crafted, sat a wheelchair and a man who was looking out at the garden outside and away from Nora and the clerk.
“Mr. Allen, you have a visitor.” The clerk announced. “She’s travelled some distance to see you.”
Nora Wells was not prepared for what happened next. The man, known as Tracy Douglas Allen, spun around slowly, and looked at her with eyes that were now a strange mix of gray and yellow and held not a bit of the heatlhy bright blue they once were.
Supressing a gasp, Nora forced a smile and extended her hand to Tracy. “Mr. Allen, how nice to see you again.”
He didn’t say anything. Didn’t utter a sound. Nora shot a questioning look at the clerk, who intervened. “Mr. Allen, this lady is named Nora Wells. You do know her don’t you? There hasn’t been a mistake I take it?” This time an answer that came in the form of a grunt seemed to indicate that Tracy did indeed recognize the woman.
The clerk smiled, appeared more relaxed, and gave Nora an encouraging look. “All will be fine now, Mrs. Wells. And if you’ll excuse me I’ll return to my work.”
In that moment Nora felt a rush of panic. Perhaps she’d made a terrible error in coming here. The home was dirty, dusty, smelled of must and strong homemade soap used to scour the floors, and made her feel as though the residents were but one step outside of the cemetary. Which, she had observed, was located but a mile up the road. Conveniently, no doubt.
The door to the sitting room came to a squeaky close and Nora sat down on the old sofa, once again seeing a small cloud of dust swirl around her after she did.
“I know who you are.” The man in the wheelchair spoke to her. “Why have you come here? To gloat? Well, look around and have at it.” His voice was still deep, but sounded tired and raspy. The result of a lifetime of too many cigarettes – and far too many bottles of whiskey.
He was being direct. She was glad that his mind still appeared to be sharp – though his body looked as though it had been through hell itself. “I wouldn’t say that, Tracy. I’m not here to gloat.”
“Then why?” He wheeled his chair closer to her. “Why come at all?”
Nora caught her breath in her throat when she saw him closer. What was left of his hair was silver and thin and left long. His skin had a chalky pallor to it. All of that added to those gray-yellow eyes made him look like a mad man who had indeed come back from the grave. “Well? You can speak can’t you?”
“I’m here, Tracy, because I wanted to see you once more. I’m working on a new project…..”
He cut in. “In Atlanta. I know. I can still read and I can still afford newspapers. You’re a famous woman now. Something of an angel they say.” He smiled, revealing darkly stained teeth. “A beautiful angel from Heaven is what they call you. Getting more beautiful as the years go by.” He chuckled. “Unlike the rest of us. But what have I to do with any of it? I am the sonofabitch who broke your heart. The lying bastard on stage. The devil-monster. And other names you called me that I have tried to forget.”
She blushed. “I was angry at you. And justified in that anger! You told me you loved me. And then went on to hold another woman and no doubt give her the same pack of lies. It was cruel and heartless of you. You knew I was alone. That I didn’t wander into a man’s bed for no reason!”
Tracy smiled and sat back in his wheelchair. “So you still love me, Nora. Despite everything. You still do. I believe you even missed me.”
Nora’s green eyes flashed brightly with amusement. “In case you haven’t looked in the mirror lately Tracy, I have to say there’s some humor in what you just said. I doubt many women would be pining for you if they saw you now.”
He laughed loudly. The thin silver hair bounced off his shoulders, reminding Nora of the cobwebs that seemed to be everywhere in Sweet Oaks. Tracy fit right in with his surroundings. “Touche! I have a man who shaves me daily so I do not have to suffer seeing my image in the glass. Perhaps it was just my pride talking. When a man loses everything else there is always that.”
Nora thought a moment before continuing, “The truth is that I heard your name mentioned at a theatre I was considering using for a fundraising event. One of the playbills from a performance you did there many years ago sat on a shelf and I made a comment about it. The manager told me about what happened to you….” Her voice trailed off.
Tracy looked down at his hands; they were still large and strong-looking but the chalky skin and tobacco stained nails told another story. “I know that theatre. The St. Charles. I performed there a decade or more ago. Before my illness.” He took a deep breath. “That came three years ago this Fall. But I remember it as though it was yesterday.”
Nora didn’t say anthing but instead waited for him to continue. It seemed to her that he needed to say this. Had waited a long time to say it. And that perhaps she was the first one to ever hear all of it. “I was performing at The Hillman Theatre in Philadelphia. Quite a venue. Performers around the world would kill to earn the right to perform there.”
Tracy gazed out the windows and into the distance as he went on. “The elite of the elite were the only ones who could afford the price of a ticket. And my ticket price was the highest they had ever charged.” He stopped and gestured to a cigarette box on the table next to the sofa where Nora sat. For a split second she considered asking Tracy if that was a wise choice, but realized that at this point the cigarettes would probably make little difference anyway. She handed one to him.
Using a shabby old flint box, Tracy lit his very modern, rather expensive, French cigarette. It seemed to Nora that that was fitting. The man was very much a star of yesteryear, yet, still enjoyed the luxuries of the present.
He went on with his story. “The orchestra had been playing their opening music. It was a full house. The footlights were lit, and my piano player was situated on stage, waiting for me. I walked out and the audience was immediately on its feet cheering for me.” He smiled a crooked smile as he remembered. “I got a standing ovation and I had not yet sung a single word.”
Tracy took another deep drag of his cigarette, not glancing at Nora, and went on, “I looked around the room and it gave me such a feeling. More than the whiskey and opium ever did.” Out of the corner of his eye he saw her expression of surprise. “You didn’t know about the opium. But I have always used it. Still do. Only now I actually need it for pain.” He laughed. After more drags and more smoke blown up into the air, Tracy continued once again.
“Standing there, looking at all the wealth in that room was such a heady experience. The sparkle of gold and diamonds was almost blinding. And to be quite honest, back then, I knew that I could afford what any of them could – and perhaps then some. Of course that’s all changed now. My fortune all went to….pay off the debts.”
He coughed deeply several times, clutching his chest, but did not put out the cigarette. “A pain I still can’t truly describe started in my lower back and continued up my spine until it reached my head. It was intense – tearing at me despite the drink and the drugs – and I could do nothing except put my hands to my head and start screaming. Light flashed before my eyes and the sound of voices around me thundered in my ears. I kept screaming, even when I fell to the floor, thrashing around uncontrollably. It took ten men to restrain me and carry me out of the theatre. Ten!”
Nora felt tears well up in her eyes. “My God.”
Tracy didn’t acknowledge her comment. He simply went on. “When I woke up in a hospital it was two days later, and I was firmly strapped into a bed. I couldn’t see. But I could hear. A doctor told me that I’d had an apoplectic fit. And while I may regain my sight, I’d never walk again. And that my singing career was finished.” Finally, Tracy crushed what was left of the cigarette in the ashtray Nora had placed on the table nearest to him. “He said that I was lucky to be alive. That he’d seen many patients die on the spot from such a fit. And he didn’t hesitate to tell me that my years of heavy drinking and opium use were what led to it. Didn’t hesitate at all in fact.”