Light spilt through the windows into the old-fashioned kitchen of the house. It was a wide room filled with modern appliances, like a steel kettle and toaster, a dishwasher, a refrigerator-freezer, but those new-age objects were mixed with the simplicity of orange wood decorations that gave the room a homely feel. In the summer sunlight, the table was shining bronze, and every cupboard had a certain luminosity that one might not have expected of a plainer kitchen. Even the breadbin was basking in the warm day.
Chopping up tomatoes recently harvested from the garden, Aidelle beheld her fiancé through the window. Phillip was standing beside his easel, gazing into their garden. His brush swept across the stretched canvas; a dab more there, a dash more here, and then his artwork was complete.
He gave one last glance around the garden, pulling a weed out of place that he had not tended to earlier in the morning, which he then proceeded to pull out with his bare hands, before chucking the stringy shrub into a bush nearby. Leaning back onto what seemed nothing, he wiped the flipside of a hand against the sweat forming on his forehead, before Aidelle’s staring eventually caught his eye, at which he waved gaily. He entered the kitchen, leaving his boots by the door. The house was starting to feel like home already, despite the amount of work that needed to be done.
Aidelle giggled, and waved a hand at the smear of dirt on his forehead. Turning to a mirror, Phillip laughed as he caught sight of the mar on his perfect appearance, saying, as he leaned over Aidelle to wash his hands and face:
“I’ll leave the picture out there to dry in the light breeze for a couple of minutes…okay? Will you keep an eye on it, just in case?”
“Mmmhmm. Do you like pepper with your soup, honey?”
“You keep me guessing sometimes, Aidelle. Yes, pepper would be delicious.”
Aidelle looked up to gauge the time, but gave up instantly. Little did it matter that the morning slipped into the afternoon; they would eat when the food was cooked, when they would be hungry. There was no clock in the kitchen, due to the lack of clocks dotted about in most of the rooms, so the partners had made, as a way of their living for the moment, their own judgement of what to do and when to do it.
“Who needs time?” Aidelle said with a laugh.
At the same time as Aidelle was slipping the tomatoes into a pot of water on the stove, she noticed, from the corner-hold of her vision, Phillip pop back out to the garden, fetching his painting and leaning his easel up against the brick of the house. He admired his work. Shaking her head with another giggle, Aidelle turned her attention to marvel at the piece as Phillip brought it in. It was beautiful; and he was a very talented man.
The image captured the essence of their garden perfectly; it took the beam of light that cut into the centre of the backyard and made it a golden shaft across the centre of the picture. The trees and shrubs that bordered the garden were no longer just green, but had hints of blue, and yellow, and amber across their leaves and they changed from olive to lime as the picture got lighter towards the west. That pale sky was dotted with silver clouds and there was the hint of wildlife at the very edge of the painting.
“It’s…wonderful,” Aidelle said, beaming wildly.
“I’ll put it above the little clock on the mantelpiece. That’s a perfect place for this centrepiece.”
“Don’t forget that dinner will not take much longer to cook. I don’t want you to spend your time trying to affix something that would be better down.”
“Okay. If you believe that, I can leave it off.” Already Phillip’s voice was muffled by the distance. “Oh, Aidelle, can I move this mirror to the left? There’s a hook knocked in here already for it to be hung on, if you want. It’s just that my work won’t fit otherwise.”
As she listened to Phillip hammer on about the logistics of houses versus homes, or something, Aidelle stirred the tomatoes, which were steadily boiling in the pot of hot water.
And he had returned from the work in an instant. Aidelle felt Phillip’s arms around her waist again, placing a kiss on his love’s lips. A smile crossed both their lips, but, as Phillip pulled away from her embrace, Aidelle caught the falling of his expression, the man stealing a glance at a piece of paper he had placed onto a coffee table nearby…
My young Phillip,
Once again, I bring to you the news that our land is at war. You know then that I will ask of you a task most boundless: join myself and the rest of our brothers as we prepare to fight. We are at war with those villains across the Big Sea again and we need all our men at arms. So you have said you are more artisan than arms-man, but I will not hear your argument again; it has become preposterous, as you are more needed with us. If you are like us, no matter how intellectual, you will definitely have the skill to carry arms, despite any silly objections you might make. War is in your blood, as father would recite; you cannot escape any duty.
I await your reply with some disclosed breath. A meeting would be well advised. Let’s say, the town plaza, the morning of August 28th. I should think that you could make time out from your busy marriage-preparation schedule to attend me.
Lieutenant Ryan Costello.
Phillip scowled at the letter, and folded it back up. The grey plaza he sat in the midst of was devoid of any hue, as the day had not yet reached its zenith of colour. Like the rest of the plaza, the monolith that Phillip was sitting on was made of a modern grey stone, granite or a mineral just as unremarkable, which also made up the structures of the shops and the occasional living spaces, in the form of flats and a concrete bungalow. They were necessary to be there, as part of the town as any other dwelling-place, but they were certainly no luxury.
Suddenly a figure appeared in the mist of grey buildings. He had Phillip’s blue-black hair, but eyes of a blue similar to what the sky might be later in the day, and his black overcoat swished as he walked. With his left arm bandaged, and hand jutting out at an odd angle, the man advanced, seeming not to take pain or discomfort from the war-wound that decorated his body. He slotted himself into a camber beside Phillip’s block and pouted to the sky, unconcerned with the white wrap that dug into his chest.
“Ah, Phillip. I had hoped that you were going to come along.”
“Well, did I have much choice?” Phillip bemoaned at his brother.
“Tut, tut, I would advise you not to begin a descent into Mother’s temperamental fire when the worst of her moods arrive.”
“Don’t,” Phillip commanded, but a balled hand on the arm of concrete beside him stopped him from pouncing upon his brother. “Women are not inferior.”
“Did I ever say so? I was merely referring to household status. Oh, and you think yourself so unaffected by genetics?”
Preparation for adulthood as a Costello was polished by being in the brothers’ whole company. Each tried to offer up a different standard of living, but there lay the problem; each had such a bold view that Mrs. Costello’s sharp tongue would fall into place instantly. Indeed similar rifts could often by created between the other members of their family, and there was the singular thing that Phillip could not put up with the words and actions of his irksome siblings. Changes of heart sliced in a glance. Despite an appearance of gentleness, the entire family knew that tempers flared beneath the formal appearance.
And it was typical of Ryan the most to go looking for an argument.
“Nevertheless,” Ryan continued with a sneer, “it’s a delight that you’ve chosen to see me. I gather that the preparation of the house is coming along well?”
Was it just Phillip, or was there a hint of mockery in both sentences? Even so, he replied in the politest of strained voices.
“It is…thank you. We tested out the cooker this afternoon; everything seems to be in working order.”
Phillip was scrutinised by his older brother for a moment, who proceeded to cross his arms menacingly.
“Well, on to more important matters. Pleasantries are wearying.”
The cold wind blew a path across the sullen plaza. Ryan could not have been more blunt or double-edged.
“Phillip, do what I tell of you. Father is threatening to disinherit you, and I don’t blame him! If you won’t conform to the rules and wishes of your own family, then why should you be allowed to stay with us, and snatch the money we provide for you?”
“Ryan…you cannot ask me to compromise my beliefs just for an inheritance payoff.” Phillip glared at the revelation his brother had just handed him.
“You need our family’s money, I know. How will you and your fiancée live without the income we can provide?” Ryan countered.
“We will make the ends meet.”
“Don’t tell me that you intend to live from her inheritance?” barked Ryan. “It’ll be gone in no time; she’ll splash it away on dresses and hairstyles and make-up, and soon you will find yourselves looking to the streets for an income to sweep up again.”
“Don’t. You know not what it is like-”
“Marriage is for those with too much time on their hands.”
Something broke inside Phillip. Not only was Ryan throwing insults at the decisions that Phillip wanted to make, but he was also criticising the system that Phillip had made into a good life.
“I will not pick up a gun. I will not learn to fight the same way you wield your words. I can’t. I’d rather have those iron swords puncture me than be in the lines who dare to cause the deaths of others.”
“Your poetic words will not sway my mind, brother. I’ll offer you- if you want the choice- the chance to work on the ‘signal lines’; you will be on the information team, listening and observing the enemies’ movement. You’ll be aiding your country either way. It’s just as dangerous, just as thrilling, and just as useful to our fighters. A ‘win-win’ situation for all, perhaps?”
“I do not want to involve myself in war!” Phillip yelled to the blankness of the sky.
“Then you want your wife to suffer?”
“Of course I do not!”
“Ah, but you must do what is necessary in yourself. I do not call this bravery ‘giving in’ to our situation; unless you wish to befriend the Enemy?”
“And you would like your wife to suffer?”
Those were the final words that ensnared Phillip. He paused, knowing that he could do and say nothing more to change the argument of his brother. That was it. Now, Phillip had to face up to his duty, over his love. Which responsibility had an inferior place in Phillip’s heart as well as his society? He could think of nothing more than her, unanimated and glassy-eyed; she must have life and he must be the one to protect her life.
“All right,” he sighed, “if I must do this for her, then I must. But, Ryan, there is no physical way that I shall be able to tell her… This is treason…”
“Then you must leave without her knowledge!”
“Ryan, I cannot, I mustn’t. And, I wouldn’t be able to. She has a right to know where I’m going. I can’t just take off to do something I don’t want to.”
“Remember that money. You know what the best move is for to enable your survival.”
Phillip hesitated, the dilemma boring into his soul.
“But…how can I say it…? Goodbye is pitifully small compared with the burden of leaving.”
He watched the malicious glint in his brother’s eyes uneasily. When Ryan spoke, it was without any pity.
“You’ll have to find a way…”