A familiar, feminine voice –with some semblance of a Southern drawl, attempting a British accent– warmed the hallway in Walter Mason’s direction.
“I have to go to the loo.”
Walter Mason, without skipping a beat (unexpectedly, to anyone who may not have known him… or to anyone who had, for that matter), began to hum rather grizzily, “Skip to my lou, my darling. Skip to my lou, my darling…”
A last glimmer of innocence? Perhaps. Or a deeper plunge into madness.
The feminine voice, belonging to Eve (who was still glimmering green with envy from the earlier events on the dance floor), softened for a beat and joined in. And, how she had known that Walter was there? Why, she had been following him. Eve did not contemplate a contingency without careful calculation.
“Skip to my lou, my darling. Skip to the lou… my darling…. Darling. Remember when Nessie used to sing this to me while we were beating the batter in the kitchen for biscuits? Oh Dickens, Uncle Walt, what’s the next verse?”
“‘Fly’s in the buttermilk’?” Mr. Mason pondered.
“‘Fly’s in the buttermilk’!” Eve exclaimed, wincing at the thought. “That fly had better stay away from my buttermilk, I’ll have you know… those things are infested! With diseases. I’m very sensitive to diseases. Did you know they say, ‘loo’ over yonder –over in the… the Britannia… England, and what not–, when they need to relieve themselves? Doesn’t that sound so refined– don’t you think? I’ve always wanted to travel overseas. Remember when I had that opportunity once before, but you wouldn’t let me? I never forgot about that. You were probably right, but I always wanted to travel. Be a woman of the world, instead of staying here in the boring, old boring-of-a-bother-of-the-South. It’s just… well, it’s just… I wonder what my daddy would have said. If he would have sided with you, or gone in a different direction? I guess we’ll never know…”
Eve slinked over to her Uncle Walt as she ‘pitter-pattered’ her every thought, teetering out of her perfectly-coiffed slink-of-a-way. She had a way. And she wanted something from her Uncle Walt. But what –pure or impure–, remains to be seen.
As she droned, Mr. Mason began to focus on the slight tear in the wallpaper. An edge that must have caught on something– a knife, perhaps, that had caught on the wall as it was being used to frighten an innocent soul. Possibly even kill an innocent soul?
Walter could remember every detail of a moment when, as a boy, he had to defend his mother, his brothers and sisters, and himself with just such a potential weapon in question. Walter Mason was indeed once a frightened, innocent, little boy; one wouldn’t have known it now from the outside, with the pomp and circumstance surrounding his success in the South (of the ways that are successful to some). Even in his current, declining state, Walter Mason screamed, “Success.” Yet the things he had seen in his youth he carried like the coat of many colors. A prodigal son lost and not necessarily ever found.
Walter Mason had needed to make something of himself, you see. He had come from nothing. All that surrounded him, all that he had attained, had come from blood, sweat, know-how (and the ‘how to know’)… and from his Uncle Hayworth. (He was the husband of his father’s sister– an uncle not by blood.) His uncle was the one with the money. He was kind. A man of few words. A hard worker. Always desiring to do right. (And… it was also this uncle from whom Eve was a direct descendant.)
Walter Mason’s father was a drunkard who had beaten him and his five brothers and sisters. Being the eldest of the five, Walter would commonly, and most often, sacrifice his supple skin to the whippings which his drunken father had attempted to unleash upon his siblings, and would take their place instead. His mother was harder to preserve. His father would take her into the bedroom and lock the door. Walter’s mother was a quiet and terrified woman, with curly blonde hair and bright blue eyes, whom he had only ever seen blossom when his father wasn’t in sight– very much like the dusty roses on the wallpaper (with which he was presently becoming one, standing there in the hallway whilst Eve kept the pace of her ponderings).
Walter was jarred back again to the moment when he had caught his father beating his mother… for what would prove to be the last time. He had been twelve years old, then– just on the cusp of coping with all the things that would come with adolescence.
Walter’s father had been intensely jealous of his sister’s husband’s success; his father had invested in several endeavors (including cotton, corn and cows) that had lead him only to empty pockets, while in the same minute, it had seemed to be raining golden coins down the worn country road to the Hayworth household. After becoming wrapped up in his friends, bourbon and gin, Walter’s father began to not even try anymore– he just waited for hand-outs, ‘hat in hand’… over fist. Feeling desperately emasculated, on top of his terrible fears of ‘never making something of himself,’ his father’s rages had turned physical at an early point in Walter’s life.
Walter had found a haven at his Uncle Hayworth’s home, taking up an ever-present residence with the Hayworth children (who were adopted by Walter’s aunt when she married their father). One time, wishing that he had been born down that desolate country road, he declared himself to be one of their children– he’d said it straight to his father’s face. (A beating ensued.) Also becoming a deeper core of the Hayworth family fabric, he had become best friends with his cousin (though not by blood), Edgar John Hayworth… who, incidentally, would grow up to father a little girl named Eve. (Eve’s real name was Eve Hayworth, but she had changed it to Harling to survive her ‘money status’– and she thought it was a better name on her way to fame.)
Edgar and Walter were inseparable– until Edgar John Hayworth died in a terrible fire. (Accident or arson, it never was revealed…) But it had been –and was– the sadness of Walter’s life. As it was Eve’s.
Walter had always been looking for ways to pay back the debt to the Hayworth family, without whom, he would be nothing. Walter had tolerated Eve, and even adopted her in the recent years. Adopted Eve… and also her brother. (Oh yes. Eve has a brother. Who is a Hayworth. We shall meet him, in time…. In time.) Walter stared at the torn dusty-rose wallpaper, listening to the familiar voice of a little girl in pain from her father’s passing, and over-compensating for her very existence in the way Walter had as a boy.
Walter flashed back to that moment when he had come to his mother’s defense: He had seen and heard the awful moans of his precious mother; she had been bent over in agony, arching with every pounding upon her skin, biting her tongue with every whipping of the horse leather. A bushel of hay barely hid the goings-on. Shadowed figures, placed perfectly on the wooden siding, had outlined a terror and a brutality in which no one should ever have to exist… Walter’s twelve-year-old eyes had gone ablaze, seeing the blood sliding down his mother’s leg, to her ankle and to her feet, as he peeked around the hay lodge (seemingly-mountainous to his younger self). And as one eye had spied to see the full sight of all horrible sights, he –in a rage– had grabbed the slaughter knife from the chicken pickering table (which one of the slaves had been tending to earlier in the day), just within reach of his pre-adolescent self; he’d then, slowly and with utter calm, raised the butcher knife and stabbed his father in the back.
He always felt a coward for doing it without looking his father in the eye.
“Don’t you think, Uncle Walt?”
Walter’s breath slowed as he remembered his mother looking at him with tears in her eyes, tending to his father’s side. He’d thought that she would have been happy. He’d thought that she would have been relieved. He had thought that he’d be a hero.
“I know I’m not Annabell– but don’t I deserve a little attention, too? After all, I am an orphan,” Eve –passively and aggressively in the same breath– exclaimed.
“Aren’t we all, Miss Eve. Aren’t we all,” Walter stated.
“Mr. Mason?” Walter turned toward the masculine voice that was evenly un-bellowing his name.
“Theodore, my boy. What brings you by this late in the evening?” Walter asked.
Eve’s breath left her body. Now things were getting interesting. “Theodore Wentworth. As I live and breathe,” Eve purred.