I don’t believe in miracles. I don’t believe in magic. Yet Beatrice insists that it was a combination of these asinine forces that saved Vincent’s life. What words does she use to describe Maggie’s death? She has none. Which is fitting, for neither do I.
Vincent to be released from hospital tomorrow. The accident has left him blind and the doctors fear the damage may be irreversible, though there are some possible corrective surgeries. As per Maggie’s wishes, Bea and I will take him in. It is strange. At once, we are planning our daughter’s funeral and preparing the house for her son’s arrival. Beatrice has assigned herself to the latter task and has left me to making the necessary arrangements for Maggie’s funeral. She said she doesn’t think she has the constitution to plan her daughter’s funeral and burst into tears at the thought. I suppose she mistakes my silence for stoicism.
Vincent is settling in well. He is quieter than his mother was at his age, but Beatrice thinks it is just his grief. I thought setting him up with the television would be suitable, since it seems to appease most children these days, but he said he preferred to be read to. I was half a chapter into The Rise and Fall of the British Empire (Charles loaned it to me almost a month ago, but I have not had opportunity to pick it up until now) when Bea bustled in and said I would bore him back to sight if I carried on like I was. She took charge of the entertainment and read to him from one of Maggie’s old fantasy books. It is just as well. I can’t stand that fantasy rubbish, but the boy seemed to enjoy it a good deal better than “Dispositions of Providence: The Colonists.”
The funeral was quiet. A few of Maggie’s university and work friends attended, as well as Charles and his wife, and Beatrice’s sisters. I sat next to Vincent. There is something strangely haunting about his eyes. They are the same English Channel grey as his mother’s, but whereas Maggie’s were still and calm, Vincent’s are as rough and emotional as the waters themselves.
The burial was the hardest part. I can’t believe I will never again hear her laugh. I can’t believe I will never again see her smile or hold her close. I can’t believe she is gone.
Bea had a hair appointment this morning and took the car. As a result, I had to brave the Underground with Vincent to get him to his doctor’s appointment in London. The trip went fairly well. He was a little clumsy with his cane and accidentally rapped a young tart on the leg. She seemed a little put out and Vincent seemed embarrassed, but I couldn’t help but suppress a smile.
Now that some of the trauma from the accident has healed, the doctors want to operate on Vincent’s optic nerve. Being more in the field of history than of medical science, I’m afraid I can’t explain it better. This has ruffled Bea greatly—she has been badgering Vincent and I for details all afternoon. All I can tell her is that the doctors are not confident the surgery will work because it’s a new sort of procedure, but they have assured us there is no harm in trying. We asked Vincent how he feels and he said, rather melodramatically, ‘I am growing accustomed to the darkness.’ He certainly is an oddly morose ten-year old. I expressed my concerns to Bea, but she said it is ‘nothing a good dose of strong English tea won’t correct,’ and went off to the kitchen to start a pot.
Bea may have been right about the tea. Vincent has cheered considerably over the past few days. This afternoon, after Bea read to him, I took him to the park. Since the weather is still cool and the majority of Vincent’s wardrobe is still at his mother’s, Bea insisted upon dressing him up in one of my tweed coats. Bea says he looked professorial, but I told him he looked ridiculous. Vincent seemed to find it amusing—said it reminded him of a game he used to play when Maggie would take him shopping.
At the park, Vincent and I sat on a bench and I described to him everything that was going on around us: the young couple jogging in matching hot pink suits; the overweight man attempting to play fetch with his equally overweight bulldogs; the toddler learning to walk; the pigeons defecating on the statue of Oliver Cromwell.
‘Do you see anything magical?’ he asked after I spent a full twenty minutes educating him on the political victories Cromwell had in the early part of his career. For Bea’s sake, I kept the answer at ‘No.’ I know he was looking for another fantasy story, but I refuse to entertain those notions. It is a doorway to a disappointing, empty room and I will not be the one to unlock it for him!
Over breakfast, Vincent informed us that he has decided to have the surgery. Bea nearly choked on her banger she was so excited. I like to credit my tantalizing descriptions of the park, but Vincent says he can’t wait to read on his own again. And some tosh about missing his ‘independence.’
Vincent is out of surgery. Bea spent the wait working on a scarf she started for Maggie last October, but was so anxious she started stitching it to her own sweater. Thankfully, the boy is doing well. We will not know of the surgery’s success until the bandages are removed in a couple of days.
The doctors removed the bandages this morning and it appears Vincent can see. Once again, Bea is quick to thank miracles and magic, but I think modern medicine deserves most of the credit.
During Vincent’s stay in the hospital, I moved his things from Maggie’s home to ours. It was strange, being in her empty home. The hardest room to go into was the music room. If I felt such things, I would say I felt her there—sitting at the piano bench, her long hair tied back with a black ribbon, trying to coax us into singing along with her…But no. She is gone, and that is that.
Bea hovered over me, making suggestions as I worked to set up his room—she is very particular about how things should be arranged. In his short life, Vincent has amassed quite a collection of posters featuring wizards, giants, and unicorns. In a shoebox under his bed I found perhaps more mermaid figurines than is appropriate for a boy—though Bea pointed out he was probably attracted by their disproportionately large bosoms. I had hopes that Bea, whose particular taste for decorating is more preferential to floral patterns than the fantastically grotesque, would store the posters in the closet or the rubbish bin, but I spent much of the afternoon hanging them according to her specifications. I can only take pleasure that Vincent seems to approve of his new room, though hopefully his tastes will soon change.
We have decided not to send Vincent back to school until next term, in favor of educating him ourselves until then. Vincent doesn’t seem to mind; he mumbled something about not having any mates at school anyway. Bea wants to wait a few more weeks before we commence his lessons, but after an experience I had with him this afternoon, I think the sooner we start them, the better.
He had been in his room reading for most of the morning. Bea made a spread of prawn and cucumber sandwiches for lunch (I think a Tesco visit must be in order soon) and sent me upstairs to entice Vincent down to the kitchen. I overheard voices as I approached his door and knocked gently before I entered, not wanting to embarrass him. ‘Quite the conversation,’ I observed with what I hoped was a gentle smile. But he seemed rather unashamed, and gestured to a reflection of light dancing on the wall.
‘Granddad! Meet Twixel,’ he said. ‘We’ve just been arguing about whether or not this poster’ (He nodded to the one above his ahead. It features a scantily clad nymph with tattered iridescent wings and mystic eyes, holding a crystal ball.) ‘is an accurate representation of the Faye. What do you think?’
While I would normally try to keep a cool head, my disappointment over the lunch selections and my mounting frustration over this fairy nonsense have left me with a short temper. ‘Vincent,’ I said, ‘It is time for lunch. I want you to cease this fairy nonsense and join your grandmother and I downstairs.’
He showed up in the kitchen ten minutes later. He pouted during lunch, but didn’t mention fairies. Bea commented on his sulkiness, but I tried to account for his mood by telling her I had just woken him from a nap. I hope Vincent does not keep up this charade for long or I will have to tell Bea.
If her strong dose of tea doesn’t work, her solution will probably be to send us all to group therapy.
I have spent the last few days trying to coax Vincent out of his room with trips to the park or the cinema, but he remains stubbornly fixed to his bed. I can hear him talking to himself when I pass his room, but when I enter he pretends to be reading aloud. If he continues with this I will be forced to mention it to the doctor during the post-operation check up next week. And if the doctor has no answers, I will be forced to mention it to the woman of the house.
Unable to contain myself, I telephoned Charles this morning, figuring that with his background in psychology he might have some suggestion. He recommended talking to Vincent about his fairy-friend and hinted that it might be a coping mechanism for losing his mother. I am surprised I didn’t reach this rather obvious conclusion on my own.
After a long morning locked in the study with The Rise and Fall of the British Empire, I decided it was time to see Vincent. His door was ajar and, for several moments, he didn’t see me watching him. He was chatting away rather animatedly to the same light reflection on the wall, and it seemed to bob in response, though of course this was just a trick of the light and the wind.
I sat on his bed unnoticed and he stopped midsentence—even the light reflection seemed to still. I began as gently as I could, expressing my concern with his newfound imaginary friend. He insisted that there really was a fairy and that he was by no means making anything up. Ignoring these comments, I then explained to him what Charles had said to me about the expression of grief and how difficult it can be, especially on young children. He said that ‘Twixel’ is helping him overcome his grief. I told him all I saw was a blotch of light on the wall. He said ‘Of course that’s all you would see, Granddad!’ I said blotches of light couldn’t talk and he recommended I leave, as I had gravely offended ‘Twixel,’ and the Faye have unpredictable tempers. Feeling my own temper to be rather unpredictable, I left and have returned to my study.
I don’t know what is to be done about this boy. He is just like Maggie in the best and worst ways.
Beatrice and I have had a row. I finally confessed to her my concerns about Vincent. She accuses me of attempting to ‘stamp out the boy’s beautiful creative mind,’ and suggests I ‘stop trying to sniff out trouble with my fat French nose.’ If Maggie were here, she would be just as irate with me as her mother, and probably slightly more vulgar and insulting.
I don’t think I conveyed to Bea the gravity of the situation and I will leave it to the doctor to decide tomorrow. .
Bah! Humbug! Rubbish! Tosh! The doctor is as unconcerned as Beatrice and under the same ‘professional opinion’ as Charles. He said there is no need to worry unless ‘symptoms’ of grief persist past six months.
In other news, Vincent’s eyes are recovering well. The tissue is healing and the stitches can come out in a week’s time.
Vincent’s conversations continue. My worry worsens. And Bea has botched another bonnet.
Yesterday, Charles and I lost our first bridge game. Well, rather than being the first game we lost as partners, it was the first game where we were completely and utterly decimated. And Theodore and Niles were not gracious winners by any definition of the word.
Charles was quick to take the blame for our humiliating defeat, but I know it was my lack of concentration. As I was leaving the house before the game, I came across Vincent having a conversation with a light reflection in the hallway. I reprimanded him for it just as Beatrice was coming through with a basket of linen. She reprimanded me for reprimanding Vincent and by the time I left I was so flustered from arguing that I tried to unlock the neighbor’s car. I explained all this to Charles. I think he is more concerned for my mental health than Vincent’s, but he has made a suggestion. He believes that if we take Vincent on a ‘romp through the countryside’ (Charles’ words), his spirits will improve. The change of scenery might be enough to ‘reengage him with reality.’ I am willing to try anything to straighten the boy out.
But how to propose it to Bea?
It went over very well with Bea, after I spent the afternoon plying her with compliments and tea cakes. I never directly said the trip was to help Vincent, which probably helped my case. I am getting out the maps to plan our route and Bea has agreed to pack. We leave in three days!
Arguing with Bea about the practicality of packing The Rise and Fall of the British Empire. She insists it is too heavy and reminded me that the point of this venture is ‘family bonding.’ But what is a holiday around the countryside without some light historical debate?
Bea has triumphed as usual and the tome will remain in my study. But I do have my own success to report. When I asked Vincent if Twixel would be joining us, he said that unfortunately, she would be unable to attend because she is confined to his room. I tried not to gloat too much at this news, but I noticed Bea eyeing me suspiciously from the top of the stairs.
Although the drive from London to Brighton is under two hours, Beatrice’s insistence that we stop in every town, hamlet, and field along the way slowed our travel time considerably. We spent yesterday evening confined to the hotel—the Royal Albion, very pretty views—due to the downpour that greeted us when we finally arrived. Vincent was not in the best of moods and neither was I. He spent most of the evening pouting with his nose in a book and I spent most of the evening thinking of Maggie. She was seven the last time we came to Brighton and, despite the city’s drab ugliness, she loved every dirty sidewalk and boarded-up shop window.
She certainly could find something to love in everything.
This morning, I caught Vincent holding court with another light reflection.
‘I thought Twixel couldn’t join us?’ I asked him. He jumped. ‘This isn’t Twixel,’ he replied, scowling at me.
It is strange, though. When Vincent left the room to meet Beatrice in the lobby, I looked back for the light reflection, and it was gone. But I will not feign to understand the complexities of the science of light!
A day at the beach! Nothing stimulates the bum or enlivens the spirits more than a long sit on pebbly Brighton Beach. Bea spent the afternoon knitting from the comfort of a rented beach chair (five pounds for the whole afternoon! an outrage!), while I smoked cigars and kept an eye on Vincent. He doesn’t seem to improve. For about an hour he cast shy glances at a girl whose family had camped next to ours and it wasn’t until they left that he finally went to the water. Three or four feet out, some ragged poles jutted out of the Channel’s choppy waters, dressed in seaweed. The seaweed danced in the wind like a wild mane. I wouldn’t have noticed them if Vincent hadn’t spent a quarter of an hour staring at them. When he started splashing them and pointing off to the horizon, I decided to intervene.
‘Vincent!’ I called to him.
‘Mermaids, Granddad! Don’t you see!’ He dropped the sulking act he had put up since the trip began. I looked to Beatrice for support, but she had fallen asleep. ‘They’re very friendly, Granddad!’
My rage was blinding. I marched into the sea fully dressed, grabbed Vincent by his arm and dragged him back to the beach. ‘Stop! Stop! Don’t you see them!’ he cried. On instinct, I turned. Although the wind felt calm, the strands of seaweed on the three poles whipped wildly around. It looked like someone had carved a face into the top of one.
‘Vincent!’ I screamed when we were shore bound. ‘There are no such things as mermaids! There are no such things as fairies!’ I shook him with every word.
‘Mum believed in them!’ he shouted. ‘And she said I should see them some day! No matter what anyone said, she told me I would see them. And I have! When I went blind, I thought I would never see them, but after the surgery I see them everywhere. Mum believed. She believed!’
He sunk to the ground weeping and I released him. Suddenly, though we were above the tide line, the water came rushing up around our ankles, flooding the shore past Bea and her beach chair.
‘Look!’ Vincent pointed out to the spot where the three posts stood. ‘They’re gone!’
I refused to turn. I refused to see what wasn’t there. ‘You better get yourself together soon, boy,’ was all I could say. I marched up the beach, told Bea I would see her at the hotel, and have been here ever since. It has been three hours. Hopefully they will return soon.
Beatrice spent the rest of yesterday with Vincent, walking along the beach and around the main roads, and talking about mermaids and fairies. She has come to her senses and is as concerned as I am. She has promised we will seek some professional help for Vincent when we return to London. She does not, however, want to end the trip so soon. As planned, we are off to Stonehenge after breakfast.
She has shamed me though. After Vincent fell asleep, I relayed to her everything that had happened at the beach. All she said was: ‘I agree it is worrisome, but is it not enough for you that Maggie believe in him?’
For the whole drive, I thought about Maggie and Vincent. Maybe Bea could be right—if my beautiful Maggie believed him, shouldn’t I, too? Vincent’s method of coping seems to work better than mine. My grief comes in spasms of anger, while his comes in conversations with things that aren’t really there. But at least, I told myself, he is happy.
We arrived at Stonehenge in early afternoon. We strolled around the monument for a half an hour. Bea, like most of the tourists, showed more interest in the sheep than the impossibly constructed stone structure. Vincent was completely captivated. Trying to put the Brighton Beach fiasco behind us, I explained to him several of the theories regarding the construction of Stonehenge, leaving out the theory about the giants. Vincent looked closely at each stone, but he was struck most by one in particular.
‘Look, Granddad! There’s a face.’ His hands traced it in the air. And for the first time, I saw it, too. The grim brow was unmistakable; the nose and lips curved gently.
‘Mum told me that the stones of Stonehenge are really giants, frozen by the sun.’
I looked at him, biting my tongue and resisting the urge to be angry. I asked myself what Maggie would say, but could think of nothing. Thankfully, Bea had caught up to us. She shot me a warning look and took over the conversation.
It is past midnight, but now is not the time for septuagenarian sensibilities.
We found a small inn to sleep for the night, a quaint place several miles from Stonehenge. The owners own several acres of the surrounding hilly countryside—perfect for walking. They also provided dinner. After enduring Bea’s attempt at lamb pie for the last fifty years, it is nice to see the thing well done. Vincent was quiet through dinner. When I approached Bea about Vincent’s mood, she said he was disappointed he didn’t see a giant at Stonehenge. I felt both appalled at the thought and disappointed for Vincent. It was a strange combination.
Since the weather was fine and the moon bright, we offered to take Vincent for a stroll despite the darkness. Bea and I walked arm and arm like we did when we were young and Vincent walked slowly ahead, his head bowed.
‘Talk to him,’ Bea said, unhooking her arm from mine. The prospect worried me. I had grown accustomed to saying the wrong thing. Grown accustomed to being angry with him.
Vincent was climbing a high, gentle hill, his face fixed on the moon. When he reached the top he sat down, looking down for us to reassure it was alright. At Bea’s insistence, I followed him up the hill. The climb was long. My hips aren’t what they used to be.
After taking an uncomfortable seat beside him, I asked him how he was doing. He said he was fine, but that he was worried about the man on the moon. I looked up. When Maggie was young, I had held her on my shoulders and showed her the face of the man on the moon. I thought of her before I responded.
‘What seems to be the matter with him?’
‘He is very lonely, and very sad.’
I buried my cynicism the best I could. I pictured Maggie’s beautiful face.
‘What would cheer him up?’ I asked.
Vincent thought a moment. ‘A joke,’ he said seriously.
‘And will we know if the joke has worked?’ I asked him, just as seriously. Vincent assured me it would and that we would know. For a full five minutes, I racked my brain for a joke. I could hardly remember the last time I heard a joke, let alone told one. It is a pity the moon wouldn’t have been cheered by a historical anecdote—I am never short of those. Finally, I settled on a joke Maggie brought home once, when she was nine or ten. I looked up at the moon, feeling more ridiculous than I have felt in many years, and said:
‘A man walks into a doctor’s office. He has a cucumber up his nose, a carrot in his left ear, and a banana in his right ear. He asks the doctor what is the matter and the doctor replied that he wasn’t eating properly.’
Vincent laughed. It sounded like a chorus of bells and wind chimes, just like Maggie’s.
‘Look, Granddad!’ He pointed toward the moon. All around it, shooting stars were falling. I counted seven altogether, Vincent counted twelve. ‘You made him laugh!’
‘Vincent!’ Beatrice called to me from the bottom of the hill. She sounded worried. ‘What is it!’ I shook my head, exaggerating the motion, knowing she probably wouldn’t make it out. I looked down at Vincent and winked.
I don’t believe in miracles. I don’t believe in magic.
But I do believe in Vincent.