25. Containers for His Grief

As summer gives way to fall, Inglorion comes to think that his father left no record of his crime and its consequence. He might not have thought of it at all. Inglorion accepts that he won’t learn what he thought he wanted to know. It wouldn’t be the first time the gods answered a different question than the one he posed.

Once he finishes reading through Tereus’s journals, Inglorion cleans and rearranges the house to his liking. Tereus was a tidy creature — much more than Inglorion, in fact — but there are pockets of neglect and small infelicities. He’s engaged in rearranging the bookshelves so that certain volumes are easily within his reach — a task that takes up several evenings — when he stumbles upon a small, black paperback. 

The volume is slim, so it’s obvious that it holds two sheets of paper, folded into quarters. They’re hand-ruled and crossed to make the contents fit onto a single sheet. It’s Tereus’s bold and slanted hand, with its few ornate flourishes — among other things, he had a curious way of forming his Fs and Qs. Experience has taught Inglorion to expect something useful but entirely commonplace: Notes on the uses of diatomacious earth in pest control, perhaps, or a recipe for chicken stock. 

He unfolds the first sheet and reads:

He refrained from looking back. He never fully understood what happened. When he was first detained, his mind was chaos. Questioning, whether by a prosecutor or a sympathetic attorney, filled him with rage. This so muddied the water within that he was unable to see himself at all. He could not understand what happened in legal terms — as kidnapping or rape or any other charge. His actions may have fit the definition — in fact, they certainly did, it’s why he decided to plead guilty — but that tells him nothing of why it occurred, or what went so terribly wrong within him.

It is dreadful to think of it, so for many years, he declines to do so. Instead, he walls off a large portion of his inward history, and avoids the area scrupulously.

Naturally this comes at a cost. The various strands that make up ourselves cannot be entirely disentangled. The private and public man inhabit the same mind and body. By blocking off his secret acts, he begins to lose access to events in his public life, and in his mundane domestic existence. He can recall the battles he fought, and some facts about Lavinia and Marcus’s doings, but the events of the time appear to him as a list rather than a story — they lose the coloration that lends them depth and pathos.

And nothing can be entirely repressed. The emotions and acts of the time crop up in odd places. There are fragments of Ovid that seize him, bring him close to tears of horror and remorse. He’s struck by a passage in the World War I memoirs of a German general, Ernst Junger, in which the author describes coming upon the corpse of an enemy soldier: “He lay there, looking quite relaxed. I forced myself to look closely at him. It wasn’t a case of ‘you or me’ anymore. I often thought back on him, and more with the passing of the years. The state, which relieves us of our responsibility, cannot take away our remorse; and we must exercise it. Sorrow, regret, pursued me deep into my dreams.”

When he stumbled upon that passage, he set the book aside. It took all his willpower — the focus and force of his entire being — to hold back tears. For days, Junger’s words echoed in his mind with such terrible volume that he was all but deafened and blinded to the outside world. He saw how Junger carried the body of his enemy about with him, and how the burden grew over time.

Stumbling on such passages had the visceral shock of stepping on a rusted nail while rambling barefoot among flowers. Over time, he saw that he would have to give up his studies, or allow himself to remember.

It was inevitable, in any case. Drinking allowed him to evoke and dismiss the images as he pleased. Once he stopped, they began to appear unbidden. Drunk, he could muse on the scent and feel of her body. Alcohol obscured the more uncomfortable parts: Her illness and distress, the conviction within himself that he was doing wrong and would be caught. He could blot out what was squalid and ugly about the scene, so that only the charm and novelty and sweetness remained visible.

Without drink, he remembers the lies and deceptions. At times, the fear of exposure was acute, sickening. He remembers an occasion long before he was caught when he received a casual summons from civilian authorities, and being tormented with the conviction that they would confront him, strip him of his rank and medals. He came to dread serving on military tribunals. It was all too easy to imagine that he would be detained as he made his way to the judge’s seat, and instead clapped in irons, forced to stand at the bar and answer charges as a prisoner. He remembers his own clench-jawed recklessness, the exhausting struggle to remain afloat in turbid, dirty water.

At times, he sits in the library and seeks out passages that somehow mirror what he finds in his own breast. It calms him to translate them — to plunge deep into language, to ponder words and syntax, the effect of rhyme and meter. This soothes him, and allows him to construct a series of containers to hold his grief.

He came to care more for language than he ever had. He spends hours contemplating the breathless anguish of a Victorian poet, or Junger’s prose, hardened and cool, or the panoply of Ovid. They comfort him, ease his isolation, and permit him to perform the simple physical tasks of life.

For a linked table of contents, listing all of the Shelawn family adventures, click here.

 

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