by T. M. Boughnou

“What?” the man heard the mother demand sharply and emphatically of her young daughter. “Tell me—where did you get that from? Who told you that?” She had been dressing the child for bed.
The man sitting out on the sofa in the living-room was struck inwardly by the urgency of the mother’s words and their intonations which seemed cause for the utmost alarm. For he’d never heard Deborah so emotional, and certainly he’d never heard her speak this way to her charming little daughter—never. Now he wondered two things: what could it be; and what should he do?—he had not as of yet been called to the scene, and to intrude might create another situation, he thought.
Usually when an inspiring event occurred, such as those playful times of interruption where joy and delight filled the air, he was immediately called to the scene; perhaps first for his approval then to be a part of whatever was going on. But though there was a sort of enthusiasm in Deborah’s voice, it was of a different temperament. So he could but wait on the edge of his seat, his elbows ready on his knees, his hands poised in a light clasp, rendered helpless: having recently moved to be with Deborah and her young daughter Ella. And although Ella was not naturally his, he cared for just as if she were. And in the most infectious of devoted sentiments, Ella, in her unrivalled youth, approved. She cleaved her velvety soft face to his, without thought, squeezing him tightly; she showered his face at every chance with moist over-excited lips, to which he earnestly did not object. It only made him lighthearted and happy, when she would run and leap into his arms, her mounds of curly brown hair tickling the side of his face.
He had been sitting on the sofa going through some boxes that had recently arrived, the last ones remaining of his belongings, that had been shipped from back east. He was looking over various items of clothing and paper articles, placing the items for keep into their respective boxes for storage; those others deemed no longer worthy, having outlived their usefulness, he discarded into a pile that he would later bag and put out to be rubbish. Just the fact of them being together in the small rambler, a family of three, their own little clan, had solaced any past uncertainties and difficulties any of them had ever had. Now this!—it really challenged him.
“No one,” he heard Ella say at long last. “Nobody!”
“No one?—” said Deborah lightly charged—“well, did you think of that all by yourself? I hardly think so. You’re only seven, Ella. No; I don’t believe it. Not for an instant! Who are you playing with at the park?” the mother, most determined to know, asked. For a time everything inside the house drew upon a yawning silence. It dawned on him that this affair, though it sounded serious, very much so: was none of his concern, yet. Because he had not been called in. And so, he shouldn’t just invite himself into his fiancée’s and her daughter’s personal matters. Although the situation between himself and them had always been nothing but amicable, he respected their space that they had always as mother and daughter, shared together before he’d come to live with them. But still yet, he had a vague, raw notion that gnawed at his insides, that it concerned him in the most sensitive and vital of ways. There was a certain kind of vibe about it that came from the back of the house were they were, and revolved around him in the living-room, refusing to disperse. He began to feel just a little bit more than uncomfortable. And as a method of distraction, he took the only viable way to solve his uneasiness: he continued busying himself with discarding some, and rearranging the others of his things. He also let his mind drift back through time to when he first met his betrothed, on that sunny day in the spring, over a year and a half ago. That reminiscence broke his tension. He became more relaxed. He took notice of the gold promise bracelet on his wrist just like the one that she wore, that they had exchanged. It brightened his face, as it served to reaffirm his belief in them.
But being taken away by visions of the past didn’t last for very long. His curiosities reasserted themselves and began to get the better of his attention, when he heard Deborah say:
“Brendan would be very hurt by what you said, Ella; extremely disappointed.” Then more silence ensued. Now he could barely contain himself. He stood. He was a fair sized man, and strongly built. And now stirred inwardly, he walked toward the front door, his head down and his large form rather withdrawn, as a demure, shy boy might’ve; as if to retreat out into the evening, away from things to great for him to overcome. And then it began again, the grilling:
“Where did you hear that?” said Deborah obstinately.
“I don’t know,” stammered the determined child, “I mean,—I meant—nowhere.”
“Nowhere! So you thought of it all by yourself?”
Brendan could tell that Deborah was well-disappointed with Ella, and hurt. This made him hurt. Should he go to them? He paced, thinking. What was it really that Ella had said that caused Deborah to become so emotionally charged with loving aggression towards her young daughter, in defense of him? If only he knew. What was it? He paced, searching his mind, and then sat among the ruins of his effects. He was at a loss; there was simply nothing that he could think of, that it might be. Then again he stood, and being unable to stand the unknowing any further, he was just on the verge of going to them, when he heard someone tapping lightly at the door. He looked up at the clock on the wall; right away it dawned to him who it must be.
“Duprey,” he greeted the burly man in the doorway, whose bright eyes were smiling.
“So, are we ready, Brendan?” he said, in good spirits. But then sensing simultaneously on an instant that something was not quite right, that Brendan was not his usual jovial self, by the solemn look in his normally festive brown eyes, and also that he had not invited him in, Duprey quickly said: “Should we do this another time, my friend?”
The two men had known each other almost a year now. And their friendship had been one instantly of respect when after they had been introduced. Deborah was a close, lifelong friend of Robert Duprey’s wife Helen. So Duprey knew Brendan well enough not to take personal offense at his seemingly standoffish manner, and less than hospitable way. He’s not himself, thought Duprey with concern. Not at all. I certainly do hope he’s alright.
“I apologize Robert; is tomorrow evening, the same time, okay?” asked Brendan; his mind edgy, he desired to return his full attention to the unknown situation at hand.
“Of course—it is,” smiled Robert Duprey most supportively, intruding no farther than the doorway. “Is everything all right?”
“Truly, I don’t know, Bob.”
“What do you mean—that you don’t know?” Duprey slightly tilted his head in contemplation off to one side and tightened his brow with a look of notable concern on his face and in his eyes.
“Well, I heard Deborah—” paused Brendan, as if to listen to what was going on back in the house;— “in the back, she seemed quite upset with Ella. It really concerns me, to tell you the truth—really concerns me.”
“I always knew that you cared a great deal for them,” Duprey placed his heavy hand on his friend’s strong shoulder, “it’ll be okay,” he looked Brendan in the eyes. “And if you do need anything—”
“—I know, said Brendan, faithfully, not allowing Duprey to finish. “I know.”
Then the two as always when parting shook hands. Brendan watched the wide back of his friend move away into the twilight. Then for a moment, as though for a brief retreat from what he would inevitably be part of inside when Deborah would come to him, knowing full-well he had overheard; though she would have, had he not been home—filled him in on anything that seemed so desperate, he could but notice the sky.
It was increasingly becoming darker in its kaleidoscope of ever-changing evening colors. Where in the west the brassy orange and metallic pink were slowly descending from the rim of the horizons where they thinly remained. It looked to him as if the night was putting a ceiling over the day. The few slender dark clouds that were directly overhead, and much darker at this point than the encroaching evening itself, gave Brendan the poignant impression that they look like something set adrift and were now moving under the influence of a light breeze of fate across the sky, with yet an easiness like the flight of early morning birds gracing the sky. And where in the east, seemingly much larger and fuller than he’d ever remembered seeing it: a large moon was on the rise. A pale orange, full moon. While further in the west outside the border of the brassy orange and pink, the last bit of crimson and a sliver of dark lavender, intermingled with the blood orange sunlight that was now pulsing faintly as it was almost completely evanesced into the underworld beyond.
Then doing what would’ve been most unaccustomed to him, consciously, but now moved by some faithful gesture of instinct—he crossed himself; then inhaled deeply, exhaled, and closed the door. Somewhere not too far away the soft scent of lavender was perfuming the mountain air. Brendan registered the delightful scent through the raised window in the kitchen that looked out at the Wasatch range. Then he thought of Deborah and Ella, and of what just might be amiss, as he sat down.
Just as he sat down, Deborah appeared, walking from the back of the house. And for a moment she just stood tall and elegant in the doorway, as though suspended in time. Then their eyes met as if for the first time, perhaps suggestive of a pair of strangers wanting insufferably to exist on the same plane; or, perhaps like two cosmic admirers who in their heart of hearts had never been more familiar. Their gaze, searching, was half-stirred, half-complacent, though never once parting. They were half-stirred for the individual uncertain thoughts that brewed in their separate minds; half-complacent for where they now were, which was too far apart. The small distance that she had to cross to reach him, neither one of them had ever known a longer span across time; both sensing that once they were in contact, that their fulfillment would be thoroughly complete. Her caressing smile that he knew so well, the smile that had always spoken the words that everything would always be all right, were incompatible with the light that now shone in her lovely, dark, usually untroubled eyes.
Finally reaching the sofa, Deborah seemed to collapse into Brendan’s arms, which instinctually made themselves ready. His arms folded around her as if by a sheer will of their own as she leaned exhaustedly against him. The embrace served its purpose though: she felt somewhat better. Then almost immediately she began. His arms disengaged as she sat up.
“I know that you heard us,” she spoke sitting straight up now looking at him, with full intent. He was sitting back.
“I was really shocked by something Ella said,” said Deborah, a look of tender concern for all three of them illuminated her eyes.
“I am concerned. Your eyes say something: they betrayed your smile as you rounded the corner and stood in the doorway.”
“You know me so well.”
“And that displeases you?”
“No; nothing pleases me more, Brendan: that you do,” confessed Deborah.
“To put this evening behind us, and to move on:—Ella’s and my talk was about you. You know we both adore you?”
Brendan nodded sincerely his affirmation.
“Good, because we do. Neither one of us could ever imagine our lives without you being in it”—said Deborah pausing, drawing upon a long sigh, taking Brendan by the hand, and then speaking at length:
“Her exact words: ‘A red or a white or a black or a yellow or a brown skin shouldn’t ever marry with one that’s different. Ella’s concern though she is little, is a valid concern,—or should I say her cares. I was upset at first—very. I didn’t know where she’d gotten the notion from after all this time of us being together. And even if we’d never met: you and I: where did she get such a notion? And I wouldn’t want her to think like that regardless, under any circumstances, whatsoever.
“At first I was very angry with her; and questioned her as to where had she picked up such a foul idea. And as you know, Brendan, not any one in my family or my acquaintances has those backwards, primitive notions.” Again, Brendan nodded a sincere affirmation that he knew. “But then I continued to think: and it came to me that she put two and two together, and it frightened her. From a program that we watched a few years ago when she was only about five, where there was a beating given to a few persons in some little village, somewhere out in the world, and she had asked me why was that happening. I told her then that it was because they were different, and that some persons were mean-spirited that way. And I explained to her then, and had forgotten all about it. And I pointed out the simple difference, and she then began crying and said, ‘But that’s not right, that’s stupid.’ So I think because she cares for you so much, she is afraid that someone will disrupt our home, owing to this one thing. Although, in the program two years ago, it had been an entirely different circumstance. So I believe that she thinks now, no matter what the form of the difference may be, in the eyes of the some times blind eyes of man, that it might cause some kind of drama.” Deborah stopped; her eyes were welling with tears, and she trembled a little.
Brendan slid closer to her and sat up. They were still holding hands. “Did you explain to her that we’ll all be okay?”
“Yes. But I think that you should in the morning. She cried herself to sleep,” said Deborah, getting a grip on both the situation and on her nerves, knowing that it would indeed be okay. “She was so confused and upset.”
“I will,” said Brendan with assertion. “I will. Of that, have no worries, my dear. Not to the fact that we will be fine: that goes without saying. But that I’ll ease her cares, first thing on to-morrow. I’ll explain everything; reassure her of everything.”
“That will be good. And I don’t,” she snuggled next to him. “I don’t have any worries now,” Deborah said, quite resolutely and feeling secure in the knowledge of what they really did have together, all three of them. “I never have. It just took me by surprise—that’s all. When our daughter said that.”
“It’s funny,” said Brendan, reflectively and quite facetiously” ; “in a way that’s not so very funny after-all.” He could but shake his head at the thought, because it really did perturbed him. “And that certainly does makes you annoyed and very angry at first. How some of us in society work so hard—exhausting hard, persistently so: at trying to educate and cultivate the wasteland, hard soils of ignorance, that wants at all cost, and will go to any lengths, in an attempt to try and destroy beauty and love and friendships and partnerships, hope and faith,—because of their very own unhappiness, and failures and shortcomings in their otherwise dreary little, pathetic lives. And therefore, they emphatically refuse to be accepting and understanding when it comes to looking at the much larger picture. That concerns any one or any thing that doesn’t assert into some small minded view of categorizing that they have: and subscribing to their ways of thinking as being the right way and the only way. Such ideals: it’s preposterous!
“And it’s amazing—simply amazing: that anyone should ever want to exist in so dismal a state.” He paused for a moment, to calm himself down, then he continued. “But I believe, if we never give up, never give into the demands of absurdity, by just walking away, then in the end, like with our little Ella, we shall be pleased with our efforts. For our darling Ella and many, many, many others like her the whole world over, will be the thriving off-shoots of our many struggles against these wayward, backward notions; and of our adoration: that knew no bounds, no restrictions, as real adoration and commitment should.”