He was writing when Clayton stormed into the room. “Explain what’s going on.”
He looked up, mildly irritated at being interrupted in his flow. Words, so frivolously used by the ordinary, were diamonds when the soot was brushed off and cut to gleaming perfection. It was what made the people stop in their tracks filled with awe. But the making wasn’t something that people understood, for it was not bestowed, it was cultivated. But it was what the ultimate creation was. He looked at the crude, young man in front of him from the top of his glasses. Crudeness could be removed with a minor flourish of his genius, but the good looks and the blatant arrogance beneath his right-now scruffy bearing was what he needed. Yes, his ten years younger brother fitted the bill perfectly.
“I asked you something, Ray. Don’t make me repeat myself.” Impatience and anger, just flitting at the brim, controlled with a tight rein. Admirable. Ray smiled inwardly. He was rarely wrong.
“What’s going on?” Politely puzzled, Ray stretched back into his armchair.
This time Clay kicked aside the leather backed chair, leaned forward and violently thrust his face within an inch of his brother’s.
“I am not marrying Claire.”
Ray surveyed him calmly and said, “Yes, you are if you still want to live in this house.”
“You can’t make me.” Clay spat out.
“I won’t have to. You will.” Ray looked around the papers scattered on his desk and said softly and pointedly, “As you see I’m working… Now if you are finished with your little tantrum, can I get back to my writing?”
“I know you have quite the colorful vocabulary. But I don’t really need a lesson right now.”
Clay stood there seething, a closed expression descended on his face, his eyes shuttered. But Ray who was already poring down on his papers didn’t see. Clay walked out in a slow gait to the giant oak doors, turned and said softly, “She was your wife, Ray.”
“Close the doors after you, Clay.” he said without looking up.
Clay stared back at his brother for a few unfathomable moments before closing the doors behind him.
It was her wedding night. Which meant she was down in the kitchens in the dead of the night, making her way in the dark, looking for some food. She was hungry not having had a proper dinner and she had to wait till all the guests had left and the servants had retired for the night. It had been a magnificent feast and she had not partaken a single morsel of it. Clay had left several hours earlier. The guests not being an hindrance to him, as he had climbed out the window of his bedroom as only Clay could. Their bedroom. Claire almost choked on the thought.
It was a cool and balmy night. But the shivers were nothing to do with that. She was trying hard not to think about the turns her life had taken but she could little think of anything else. She went to the fridge and started rummaging through.
Claire jumped and whirled around to see Ray sitting at the kitchen table, eerily illuminated by the dim light of the refrigerator.
“I thought Clay was as randy as a young stallion, and you, my darling….” he laughed softly. “How come he let you out of his bed so soon?”
He stood up and walked around the table to her as Claire stood immobile, transfixed.
“Or are you still pining for me, love?” He reached a hand, smiled as Claire flinched, and closed the door of the fridge suddenly turning off the icy blast of cool air and sheathing them in darkness.
In the lightened darkness of the room, bathed only with faint moonlight filtering through the curtains, his eyes dropped suggestively and roved over her body, lingering at her heaving chest and the night clothes molding to it. He put a hand lightly on her breast and intoned softly, “Are you missing my touch, Claire?” As he lifted a thumb to brush, not so lightly across her puckered nipple, she jerked to life, and with a heave pushed his arms away as she ran up the stairs, with unknown tears streaking her cheeks.
Ray looked at her receding back, inwardly appreciating her tight little ass, as he braced himself. It was just getting better.
“What do you think you were doing Ray?”, came his brother’s voice, soft and dangerous, from the kitchen doors.
Ray turned slowly as if surprised to find him there.
Clay approached him menacingly and put choke-hold to his throat and said, “If you ever touch my wife again, I’ll feed you bits by bits to the dogs. Do you understand?” Ray nodded, with what he hoped the right amount of fear and anger in his eyes.
“Claire is my wife now. You didn’t want her. You set her aside. Now she is mine. And you better stay away from her.”
Ray rubbed his throat, gasping for breath as Clay stomped away from him. The ball was set rolling. Finally.
It was slow but it was coming along. Perfectly.
The manor house. Serene, sturdy and timeless. Witness to the passage of generations, of centuries of tribulations, of gains and losses, of treasures and misfortunes. And it would also withstand the storm raging inside now. But it would be the only one to.
The lady of the manor, a lady of impeccable upbringing and enviable lineage but was endowed with all the failings that made every woman weak. Like the child she cradled in her bosom, loving it with every breath she took even while it was sucking at her teats, sucking out her life. It could only be a woman who could love a child that her husband hadn’t given her. It could only be a woman, too weak to drown a spawn, who could nurse the thing that had sprouted out of the impassioned, tempestuous longing of the great owner of the manor, forcibly sated.
But she was as timeless, as predictable like every other of her race. Their bodies were the fertile ground, if not cultured, it would sprout weeds. It begged for watering, begged for seeds to be sowed. It begged and pleaded, thirsty and wanting.
A chivalrous, virile husband was nothing if it could not quench the thirsty, the parched, the wanton that a woman was when deprived. Handsome, youthful and strength, all counted for nothing when the wife, the lady, the hussy was lusting after the silent, refined owner of the lands and the lord of the mansion.
But the barges couldn’t hold anymore. The waters filled and overflowed. A flood ensued. It was inevitable, as the water would come and cleanse off the scum, the rotting, and only the true would survive…
His pen poised on the last parchment, Ray tilted his head as he contemplated. One of them had to die. Which one, he mused.
The red of the sherry glinted brightly against the crystal of the decanter. A little known poison and the red of the sherry. Bloodless yet red. But she needed to be beautiful, more than she’d ever been in this last act. In this perfect story.
“Ah, Claire, my darling, there you are!”, Ray greeted her, as she entered the library and stood waiting at the doors, her hands clutched tightly at her voluminous white skirts.
“Come in, darling, take a seat.” Ray called out, as he poured the sherry carefully and appreciatively nodded to himself at her white gown. He couldn’t have asked for a perfect setting. Claire walked in to the summons she couldn’t ignore, her eyes pausing lightly at the crystal goblets in his hands.
“Where’s Clayton?” she asked.
“Oh, he will be here in a bit, I expect. He must be tending to his beloved horses, I think” Ray said as he handed over her glass, “And we’ll all celebrate together… Won’t you ask what we are celebrating, darling?”
Without waiting for an answer that wasn’t coming, Ray went back to his chair and said, “We are celebrating our union and our love.”
This time Claire looked up puzzled, “Our love?”
“Of course, love, you know it was wrong of me to marry you when I knew I never wanted to be a husband. But I know how much you love me. Have always loved me. I set it right, didn’t I? I got you a husband and yet didn’t set you away from me. Wasn’t it a brilliant plan? All for our love.”
Claire stared at him incredulously, “This was your brilliant plan?” She laughed mirthlessly. “Our love, Raymond? You rape me, your brother’s wife and call that love.”
Ray smiled condescendingly, “Rape, my love? My touch, my love were all you ever wanted, wasn’t it? Me? And the child you hold so lovingly to your lush breasts, you wouldn’t have found so much love for that if it was rape, would you? You love it, because it is mine.
“But we are digressing. Drink up my love, I wanted to tell you about a story, my masterpiece, that I am finishing… A story like no other… we just have to wait for Clay.”
Clay spoke from the doorway, “I am here. What did you want with us?”
“Oh, Clay! You are here already.” Ray clapped his hands like a little kid.
“Now I can begin my story.”
As Claire and Clay sat opposite him, Ray got up and started talking. “So, I wrote a novel, a masterpiece, a story so real, so deep that it will echo in the minds of those who will read it forever…
“And it is a story about a woman not unlike you, Claire.” he said.
Claire and Clay waited, their faces inscrutable.
Ray continued, “Now I have almost reached the end of the novel, but one of the characters has to die. The lord of the manor, the husband or the woman whose story it is. That will be the masterstroke.”
Turning around to face the others, Ray said, “And you have to help me… It is going to be simple and painless like poisoned sherry…”
Clay jumped up and knocked the crystal out of Claire’s hands and it spilled with a thud on to the carpeted floor whilst a fine red seeped up the skirt of her gown. Claire sat wide-eyed and shocked.
“You are mad! Claire, you were right! He’s mad! You think we are puppets in your hands, writing a book, a goddamned book, with your family cast as characters of a cheap thriller! You bastard!” Clay shouted as he lunged towards Ray. But Ray anticipating it, was ready and moved with the agility of a deer and held a small, silver Colt against the temple of Claire.
“Don’t bother, Clay. It is not how I want the character to die. Please don’t ruin my story. And it is going to be perfect.”
Clay stared scared, looking at the barrel of the firearm and the calm, mad eyes of his brother. The bastard actually meant it, he thought, all of us are just characters, when suddenly the tensed silence broke with the sound of a tinkling laughter.
“Your story? Your story, Ray?” Claire was laughing.
“You think we didn’t know what you were up to?”
She turned around easily and swatted away Ray’s hand as he looked on bewildered.
“You thought you had us cornered. Forcing my father to marry me off to Clay after you had spurned me, knowing Clay’s righteousness that he will never touch me as a husband. But you miscalculated Ray, you made a huge error in judgement.
“You raped me not two days after my wedding to your own brother, ignoring my tears, my pleading, my hurt, my blood and justifying it all by calling it love… Thinking that our marriage was the sham you wanted it to be, you manipulated us, twining us all around your little finger. But you were wrong. The child is not yours. We did have a real marriage and we found love. Your hatred, your manipulation brought us together. And it showed us what I knew all along. That you are a mad man.”
And before Ray’s widening eyes, Claire moved forward and pressed her lips to his, “And you are right Ray, one of us has to die.” She lifted her hand from the volumes of her skirts. The afternoon sun streaming through the high-walled windows gleamed briefly on the silver blade as she plunged it deep into the belly of the monster who had been her first husband, who had brought limitless pain to her and her own. And she could find nothing but a vindictive satisfaction as she plunged the knife again and again as the voices in her head screamed her name.
Clay wrenched the knife away from her hand, dragged her away and silently held her. “It had to be done Clay… Some one had to do it. And it had to be me. No one but me.” Claire breathed heavily and looked around. “Do you think we didn’t know about your story Ray? We knew it from the day Clay had leaned across this very desk and told you that he wouldn’t marry your wife.”
Ray looked up from the floor, the Colt still clutched in his hands, choking on his own blood and gurgled, “Cl…”, and couldn’t speak any more.
Claire looked at his lifeless body with disdain, and said, “Burn his novel, will you Clayton.” and walked out leaving Clay staring down at his dead, demented brother with undisguised loathing.
The fire in the grate ate away at the manuscript, the flames slowly licking over the words that shined brightly moments before being devoured…
He had sinned and she would extract the penance. She was a woman, like every other one of her race, with a strength that surpassed man, and could rise from the ashes like an inferno and engulf all existence for all that she loved. And she could burn all that stood in her way. She could create and she would destroy like only a woman could.
Woman as she was. She was creation. And she alone, destruction. The perfect woman.
She was the last vision that he beheld, her perfect face, her flowing tresses, her beautiful, dark eyes lit with fire as she thrust her knife again and again into him. And in his death, death by her hands, it would be he who would be immortal again.
The empty Colt on the carpet remained the only witness to the masterpiece.