Free As a Bird
A Love Story
In Two Parts
She had begged him not to speak to her father, at least not yet. She knew full well that once Jude had asked him to marry her, it would mean an exodus from her life at the manse, fleeing in haste from the destruction that would follow. She wanted to be ready for this, ready to start her life with Jude proper, to make it a symbol.
Reluctantly he had agreed, and she had slipped the ring inside a locket, and wore it around her neck. She loved that, the ring, the absolute image for the grace that would save her, for the only love she knew, was hidden in such plain sight under her father’s colourless eyes. If she was busy with something completely other, her mind would find itself falling to her collar, and if she concentrated hard enough she could make herself feel the locket as a sticky heat on her chest.
This way they continued for a long time, and their meetings in the afternoons and their adventures at night felt thrillingly and dangerously secret as they hadn’t before. But they were restless- Jude especially- to start their new life together. He had even been going into town whenever he could, or sneaking off a jobsite whenever he had one in the area, to look for the house that could sustain the life their stories demanded. But Lorelai had other ideas.
At first, the idea manifested itself as a diversion, a flight of fancy to distract herself behind a locked door, borrowed from what she already knew. Her father, struggling in his career and no longer satisfied with drink to deaden his mind, had turned to something stronger. For Lorelai, this meant that the beatings took on a nature more malevolent, and her time spent in the far gables of the house more frequent. With each incident, her mind returned even faster to this one idea that had burrowed into her brain, and it was starting to harden like a stubborn vat of burnt sugar. What at first had seemed fanciful and dream like turned into something she had to dismiss as ridiculous. She would pish and wave it away, unsettled that she had allowed herself to think of it in such real terms. But eventually, the locket was burning its etched patterns into her skin, and the itch began for real. She went to Jude with her plan, and from fanciful to ridiculous it had now cemented itself as resolute.
To hell with a house.
To hell with the city and its provincial smells and sounds and sights.
To hell with steady, and solid, and safe.
She wanted to see the world.
Luckily being the daughter of someone who had once had influence, she knew that there were people she could talk to. Once she and Jude had decided to go ahead with her fanciful, ridiculous, resolute plan, they moved with speed as though it had been the idea all along. The money that would have gone towards their metropolitan homestead instead was passed along many hands, like a bucket of life-saving water along the hands of a brigade- some being spilt with deliberate fortune along the way, ensuring that this all happened on whispered breaths. It was a highly specialized request and so required a very specialized artisan, but with enough pressure in the right places and gold in wrong ones, their dream was taking corporeal shape somewhere just outside of town.
Lorelai had had her bags packed since the night they had decided. She was ready for flight at any moment, and she found that simply knowing this gave her days a levity she had not been able to create for herself before. Bruises and blood did little to trample her spirit, even when she had now seen her father froth white at the mouth and soil himself when he passed out- all products of his new chemical bliss. She felt certain looking at the sodden mess that when the time came, this pathetic old man, this vile and dirty creature, would not be able to fight Jude off when he came to take her away. Now all they were waiting for was word sent along their careful grapevine that all was ready, and she could leave this place behind forever.
Jude worked just as diligently in his own way, and spent the time he had free securing little odds and ends, things that they would need to make this work. He knew that a clean break would be best, but unlike Lorelai, still held hope that perhaps her father might let her go with grace. Not that he wouldn’t welcome the opportunity to break the man’s teeth off in his skull- he’d have to fight himself not to goad him into violence on the day. But even some small measure of decency from her father before they turned their backs on this town for good could be closure for her, and that was something he couldn’t necessarily give her through cathartic violence.
He had packed very little, never having had much and not foreseeing the need for more any time soon. But although his personal baggage was minimal at best, his little room had started filling up with boxes and crates of what he thought of as provisions, and it made him smile every time he had to do a little dance to manoeuvre himself through to get to the bed. He kept his ears wired to the ground for any sign of first-light, and felt saturated with calls of “any-day-now”, “just-a-little-longer”, and “only-a-few-days-more.” But finally, when the word came, it was like a gritty lens had covered his eyes, and his heart beat in feverish anticipation. He knew that the next step was going to be ugly, and with a stroke the clandestine nature of their plans was geared up by a factor of five, but finally- finally!- the time was here.
He let Lorelai know by way of a message, sent word of mouth. They knew they could not see each other for a few days, averting suspicion and also giving Jude time to get the last pieces in play. She took to praying those last few days, something she had given up doing once her nannies had stopped forcing her at six, and the locket burned so hot it was cold.
She had everything ready now, she was sure, but she would check and recheck like Jude’s hand had found its way to the ring in his back pocket months before, until she had to force herself to breath normally, and she could relax again. On the evening of, as she was checking herself in the mirror, her coat and hat draped readily over her bags, she froze at the realization that there was indeed one crucial thing she had not thought of before. Mercifully, her father had only yet laid into his scotch for the night, and had not yet progressed to white powder, so she’d had to suffer little more than some badly composed insults slung her way. But unfortunately, this also meant that he was still more or less at his senses, and she was not sure if she would be able to do what she wanted in time.
Nonetheless, she crept out into the hall, her footsteps muffled by the rug that covered the hardwood, and made her way to her father’s study. Most of the lights were off again tonight, but this time they held no fear for her, but only the promise of leave. She could hear her father talking to himself in the den, heard the crystal clink as he poured himself another. His study came before the den, but was only one room away, so she would have to be soundless to do this without incident. She tried the handle on the study door, and found it unlocked. Like breath she slid into the room and pulled the door shut behind her, leaving it slightly ajar for an easier exit.
She knew where to go, so there was no needless shuffling or searching, no sound that did not need to happen. She pulled a chair from the corner of the room up against a tall cabinet, and carefully pulled herself up on it. The seat was cushioned and her shoes had a slight heel, so with some effort she found her balance, and let her hand roam on the dusty cabinet top. She could not see so high, and her arm was stretched as far as it could so she had to work by feel, but quickly enough her groping and now dirty fingers found what they were looking for.
Her mother’s wedding band, to stand as a simpler companion next to Jude’s pearl. Among the cast off bits and pieces of information she had been allowed of her mother, this was the one thing she had always been certain off. Among rumours and spiteful whispers of a death, a murder, or an escape, the only constant in the story seemed to be that her mother had left her ring to Lorelai. Her father had always said he was keeping it safe for her until he felt she was ready for it. She knew this play of protection on her behalf for what it really was: another way of exerting his hold on her. But she had many times kept her eyes carefully open when he thought they were swollen shut, and listened when he thought he had knocked her out, and had kept the hiding place like another burning locket in her heart as her own assertion of quiet power.
Now she had claimed that power and cashed its value, and slipped it onto her right hand. Later, she would choose a moment for its silence, and would give Jude the only gift she really had that could have the weight of love, like all the pieces of himself he had given her. The moment would belong to her gift.
Her head snapped around and she had to stiffen every muscle in her body to keep upright on the chair as she heard the bell at the front door ring. Her father had evidently had a similar reaction as she heard his steady stream of consciousness come to silence in the den, before he trooped off to see who was bothering him at this time of night. She quickly made her way off the chair, not even bothering to put it back where it had been, and could swear she felt Jude outside nod at her as if to say:
“It has begun.”
She ran to her room, leaving the door to the study wide open, knowing that in a few minutes it wouldn’t matter anyway. For the last time she went through her mental checklist and then went to join her father at the door.
She could hear their voices before she saw them. Had Jude asked already? That seemed unlikely, but she could hear the open aggression in her father’s voice. When she turned the corner and they came into her line of sight, she nearly doubled back. Her father, only mildly inebriated by his standards, stood at the door waving a poker iron in Jude’s face. He had come to the door expecting a fight from whomsoever it may have been, and though Jude was doing his best to calm him and do his bit diplomatically, she could see that her father was about to snap.
She stood holding her breath for a moment, not sure what to do. But her father did snap and with him the world, as she saw the poker in his hand swing down with a mighty force and land a blow across Jude’s face. Jude fell in on himself as if his suit had crumpled after being suddenly vacated, and as she surged forward she could hear her scream fill the small entryway. She pushed past her father and stooped down to Jude, sobbing and screaming madly, wildly, while her father regathered himself. She was about to round on him when Jude pulled himself up bodily, a great red welt glowing on his cheek, and he put an arm out to hold her back.
But her father was having none of it. He knew that this little shit of a boy, this inbred waste was here to take his daughter away, to defile her and make her his little slut. He could taste stomach acid in the back of his throat, and realized that he probably already had.
The next part seemed to last for days, but was over in only an instant. Lord Evesbrim grabbed his screaming slut of a daughter by her hair and dragged her up the first flight of stairs. The boy ran after him, but with one arm he swept him aside, and he heard his head crack against the banister as he disappeared with his daughter into the darkness of the landing. He made for the den, Lorelai still in tow, and grabbed the now empty crystal decanter from the mantel above the fireplace, and with long, broad strokes proceeded to bring it down on the whore’s head, steadily, rythmatically. His eyes were unseeing. He was not out of control. He felt as if, for the first time in years, he entirely had the run of his own senses. He knew what he was doing. He was killing the tramp who wanted him to believe she was his daughter, and the world would be better for it.
Her cries had stopped and she was silent and her face unrecognisably, when he heard the boy drag himself up the stairs. Fine. He would finish him off as well, round the evening up. From the sound of it the runt wasn’t doing too well, was struggling all the way up, so it wouldn’t even take much effort of him. He wiped the sweat and blood from his brow with his shirtsleeve, and readied himself for Round Two.
But Jude had been angry for a very long time.
He rounded the stairs and made the landing, but it was quite apparent that what he was dragging was not himself, but the poker that Lord Evesbrim had so carelessly left dropped to find purchase in long blonde hair. The sight not a minute earlier of Lord Evesbrim systematically beating the life out of his daughter with an empty decanter would have sobered any man, but the look from Jude’s eyes, already so intense, would have brought a grown man to incontinence. Jude’s gaze flickered only briefly to Lorelai’s body on the floor, before he soundlessly came up to her father and swung.
Far from the manse itself, where you could only see the light of the windows lit up against the black of the universe, the servants could not hear the wet thumps as a poker iron made repeated contact with a man’s skull. Flayed pieces of skin made sickly sounds as they fell away and hit the floor, but the only evidence from outside was the slight flicker of the den light in the darkness.
And then, even to ears close enough to hear, there was silence that belonged entirely to itself.
Jude had fled. He was shaking violently with silent sobs, sobs that heaved at his body so hard that his empty stomach threatened to retch itself up. He made no sound as he checked her for breath, for life, but he could hardly see as his head shook through his soundless tears. He only had time to kiss her goodbye, the blood on her face painting his mouth a scarlet that in half an hour would fade to a dull rust brown, and take the locket before turning to flee the room.
He hesitated, going back, not wanting to leave, to accept the evidence of his eyes, but he would have to. He could not stay there where two people lay beaten to death with blunt objects. He was about to leave again when he saw the ring on her finger, and had only just enough advantage of his senses to slip it off of hers and onto his own before running off into the night.
He grabbed the things that he had packed, leaving behind all his painstakingly gathered provisions, and made off for a spot just outside of town where his and Lorelai’s shared future sat waiting. He made so much noise that Missus Wakely made her way outside in a panic, wearing only her bathrobe and slippers. She let the boy cry his racking sobs into her safe arms, and she was terrified for what might have happened. The only thing that could do this to Jude was Lorelai, and she loved the girl like she loved the boy. Her heart froze. Through tears and spit and snot, she managed to extract some vague idea of the night’s events from Jude, and all the blood drained from her face at the boy’s account of the night. She wanted him to stay, to calm him so they could think what to do next, but he would not be persuaded, and without a goodbye he ran off with his one bag in tow. She was left staring after him, the sting of new tears in her eyes and both hands clasped painfully tight over her mouth.
Jude found what he was looking for, what had cost so much- in money and more- come to fruition. He had to wake up the man who had built his dream, dragging him from his bed at 2 AM, and although he certainly wasn’t happy about it, no sane person would have argued with Jude the way he looked that night. Quickly and quietly, in the very specific air that came with a journey started in the dead of night, the hot air balloon striped red and blue, edged in gold with its large, comfortable basket was made ready, and a few short hours later, Jude was gone.
What Jude did not know, is that after his abrupt flight from his proud little home and Missus Wakely’s aching arms, she gathered up her husband and her two eldest sons, and with burning oil lanterns and bundled up against the cold, they made their way to the Evesbrim Manse.
They found the main doors open, and carefully made their way up the stairs and through the first floor, not sure where to look or what sight exactly they might find. It was Missus Wakely who found the bodies in the den, and unsteadily called to the men downstairs. They quickly joined her, her eldest quickly wrapping her in his arms while the other two checked the Evesbrims.
What Jeremiah Wakely, 17 years of age, found there was not what any of them had expected. His father declared the Lord to be certainly dead, although from the sight of him this was not so shocking a proclamation. But Jeremiah’s breath caught in his throat and his eyes found Lorelai’s as they fluttered open. There as blood in them and they were swollen so badly that it was a miracle they could open at all, but in a silent moment amidst the noise of the Wakely’s crying and fussing in the stately den of a corrupt lord, the two of them shared a little universe for a second that filtered everything else out completely.
When the spell broke, Jeremiah found his voice and the ambient sounds of his family seeped back into his world.
There was only the slightest pause of disbelief before the other three Wakely’s rushed to Jeremiah’s side, and found that against every grain of logic or sense, yes, Lorelai was alive. She was trying to say something to them, desperately trying to bring something across, but she could only make soft gurgling animal noises, and Missus Wakely begged her not to try to speak.
Mr. Wakely lifted her carefully in his arms, his coat around her shoulders, and the boys grabbed as much of her baggage as they could before they all left the manse for the cold air outside. They walked the distance back to their home wordlessly, while the match that Jeremiah had lit in the study grew to flames even the servants in their quarters could see, and the Evesbrim Manse was no more.
It took days before Lorelai could speak again. It took weeks before she was well enough to walk. It took almost as long to calm her down when she found out that Jude had gone, fled thinking that she had died at the hands of her father, believing that he had brought on the attack that had ended her life. There was now no way of letting him know that she was alive, no way to bring him back, and no promise that he would ever return. The Wakely’s treated her as one of their own for the time she spent with them, and Missus Wakely proved her nursing skills fit to rival those of any professional in the country. Soon enough, Lorelai found herself healing. There were scars now in visible places that would never go away, and the bruising looked worse than it felt, going colours of unpleasant vegetables as bruises are wont to do while exorcising themselves. She would look at her face in the small bathroom mirror a family shared, and touched the cut across her jaw and the purple-and-yellow flower spreading from her eye. But there was a painful absence of the reassurance she had felt at Jude’s fingertips.
She cried in corners so the Wakely’s wouldn’t see her, she did not want to upset them any more than they already were, and she desperately did not want them to think her ungrateful. Before she was quite well enough to do so, she was insisting on helping with the household chores despite Missus Wakely and her two daughters’ anxious pleas for her to rest.
She was quieter now than they had ever known her. Missus Wakely shared some hushed words with her husband one evening, and he made careful inquiries as far abroad as his limited contacts stretched for any word of a boy travelling alone in a hot air balloon. Careful inquiries turned ever more urgent, as they could all see Lorelai’s mind turning in to itself. Mr. Wakely felt the time for tact was past, and decided that he would have to enlist every friend the girl had ever made here and every connection they had over the world to find him. It was all they could offer her.
The whole neighbourhood pulsed, a united rush and fall as all around Lorelai, every soul who loved her called in every favour owed them and cashed whatever chips they had left, and a thin but steel-strong web surrounded the Wakely house. This network slowly spread outwards to friends of friends and beyond, a little at a time, spawning a vast underground search for a boy in a balloon that spanned as far as The Continent. It was via this network that word finally reached back to the Wakely’s of just such a person, a most likely candidate, spotted somewhere over France.
Immediately they sprang into action, and Lorelai’s things were again packed, and the network was urged to get together whatever they could get to send Lorelai on her own journey. She would not be travelling by balloon and would have to go on foot, but they were damned if they were going to send her out into the world empty handed. People who could least afford to give came up to the house during the days before her departure. They brought a warm winter coat, three different scarves and more socks than she could count, heavy boots for walking and (who knows?) kicking, hats, maps, money, food, and Mr. Wakely himself supplied his large knapsack, to be worn on the shoulders, to transport her many gifts.
She knew that she would not be able to take much with her, the weight being too much as it was with only the necessities packed, so she took only the clothes she’d need, her generously provided tools for survival, and a small box containing the few of Jude’s gifts she had packed before she had left the Manse. She did not know what had become of her locket and her ring, a thought which she’d had to push to the back of her mind many times in the last few weeks, but it would not matter, if only she could find Jude.
With teary goodbyes she left the Wakely’s, and set off for the train station. She did not trust these new planes; they seemed much too rickety for her liking. Besides, she was not a pilot, and she would not have someone else fly her adventure for her.
She finally left home.
Where did we lose the touch
that seemed to mean so much?
It always made me feel so...
that seemed to mean so much?
It always made me feel so...
Free as a bird,
it's the next best thing to be.
Free as a bird.
it's the next best thing to be.
Free as a bird.
He loved her. It was all that he was now, and everything around him. He had only the image of her lying broken and bloody forever in his eyes, and no god-like view from up high could take it away.
He stopped often, and wherever he found a willing ear, he would tell them of Lorelai. He did not, of course, dare to retell the whole sordid story, but it wasn’t the thing that burned in him anyway. The only thing he cared about, the only thing he needed to relay to as many open faces as possible, was Lorelai.
He worked where he could find an odd job, worked for food or supplies, for a place to sleep, and if he could not find it then he slept in his basket. He would have to pay someone with a large yard or field to house his balloon while he roamed cities and towns, but he had always been handy and even if there was never abundance, he always found a way to have enough. When he flew untethered and free over God’s greatest cities and landscapes, he wore his navy suit, and even found himself a little leather fleece-lined cap and a pair of flying goggles to match. He was like a house-proud mother with his little balloon and his gear, and if he had to cry he would do it quietly, down on the floor of the basket, where the wind could not freeze his tears on his skin.
One of his first stops was in Northern France, in the city of Reims. He found that music and food and so many things that Otto had promised were everywhere he went, but he had little interest at all for them. Instead, what he found himself drinking up like a man parched for years, was stories. He still read, yes, when he found something worth reading, but for the first time in his life he could find the stories first hand, learn by experiences and through speaking to those that knew themselves. From scholars to barmaids to priests and alchemists, he wanted to know all. He learnt such things that intoxicated him, and he found he had to write them down. He bought himself a little leather bound book and a special fountain pen, and after a while his clumsy handwriting seemed to find a style through constant use that it had never seen before. He would spend hours at the end of each day, writing out feverishly the things he had learnt, the images that had been granted him, and he wrote it all as if to Lorelai. His logical mind tried to tell him that it was mad to write to someone who would never read again, but he just knew that Lorelai would love to hear of the stories he was living.
I met a sect of very strange monks today, Lori, you would have laughed to have seen them. So typical of the strange image one has of monks, fat in their prickly brown robes, a little patch of skin shaven clean on top of their heads, like some caricature in a newspaper. They told me of an emperor, Frederick II, who lived hundreds of years ago. He was a horrible man, but always curious. He tasked the nuns in Italy to raise orphan children away from all human influence and interaction, to see if they would develop the language of God if they were deprived their own. I wonder if it would be easier to have grown up that way, without the terrible weight of humanity pressing down on you. People are cruel, Lori. Even the ones who are meant to love us the most let us down and hurt us in the end.
It was in France that he found his travelling companion. Walking down the Rue de Rivoli in Paris’ 4th arrondissement with his hands in his pockets, he was content to simply take in the sights and sounds of all shops in the city’s most famous street. He could smell freshly baked bread, sour dough he was sure, like tapped beer, and he emptied his pockets for change to buy a loaf. He couldn’t wait to tell Lorelai about it tonight in his stories; he hoped he could find some fine cheese to go with it. He paid for a warm loaf and tore it apart in his hands, the smell reminding him of stories he had told, memories of a life he had not lead but imagined for her. He sat down on the side walk, serene in the middle of the busy street, and ate his bread.
As he stared unseeingly at the building in front of him, he felt something tug at his too-short pant leg. He frowned and looked down, and there in the muddy gutter of the famous Parisian street tiniest, most fragile little cat. He looked up and down the road to see if there was a mother or siblings close by, but saw nothing besides busy feet so ensconced in their own lives that any small creature would surely be crushed beneath them. It was a small miracle this one had survived at all, wherever it had come from.
The cat was probably only about four weeks old at the most, with the slightly stupid, wide features kittens have when they’re still too young to think without their mothers. It was black and white, and curiously, just on the back of its neck, the random monochrome patterns came together for something like ordered chaos, and there was a small black circle on white. A halo.
Jude dug around in his pockets once more, and quickly scanned the street for a dairy. He picked up the little parcel and tucked it in under his jacket, and bought a fresh pint of cream. He made his way back to where his balloon had been docked (with the aid of a few coins and a suddenly helpful metal yard owner), and got into the basket with the cat, cream, and what was left of the loaf. He carefully exhumed the purring bundle from the warm recesses of his jacket and put what he found out was a her down on the floor. She seemed perfectly content here, and made a thorough inspection of her new surroundings. She found a pile of his laundry which he had left heaped in one of the corners, and kneaded for herself a little bed, purring all the while like a flour mill. He tore off a small piece of the soft bread and soaked it in some cream, and offered it to her. She ate like a hungry little raptor, and he scratched around in his luggage until he found something that could be appropriated as a saucer, and presented her with a meal.
That was more or less it; from then on in they very much belonged to each other. He toyed briefly with the idea of naming her Lorelai, but it felt like sacrilege. Instead he settled on The Saint, and she quite happily accepted this with a quick lick of his hand another nibble of cream soaked bread.
I made a new friend today, Lori. I’ve never had a pet before, and it’s not like I would have imagined. People are always saying how high and mighty cats are, how they ignore you and turn their noses up, but The Saint isn’t like that at all. She looks at me just like a person would, and her face seems so much more familiar than an animal’s should. She shared some bread and cream with me, bread that smelt of beer, Lori, another piece of Otto that seems so ridiculous to have up close.
Once, Lorelai had lived and he did not know it. Separated by miles of earth and water and a God’s-eye view, she lived on while his entire being continued to mourn for her. Now again she moved without his knowledge, existed without even so much as a suspicion in his mind, and gained on him.
Acting on the information passed through hands that wanted nothing more than to see her happy, she made for Reims in France. She begged rides from strangers in beautiful auto mobiles and on the backs of trucks transporting livestock, she worked to pay for fare on a ferry and scrubbed floors and dishes for supper. She knew full well where her talents lay and where they did not, and although she was aware that she might not have had the greatest voice in all Christendom, she could hold a melody and spent a few nights singing bar tunes in a saloon and tending bar. Ever closer she crept to Jude where he flew unawares, living an adventure. She was living her own, but each in their own separate lonely ways wished many, many times over that they could be doing so together.
She reached France in high spirits, fresh faced and well healed- the exercise of travel agreed with her. She took to Reims and as far as she went, she did every odd job she could find, begging shelter and meals where she could, and using her genial nature to her best advantage. She would often hear of a man who had passed through, wearing a navy suit and having some strange passion for odd stories, but she was always a step behind. She had in her favour the fact that she had not stopped in places as long as he had, and so had been making up his lead, but it was slow and painful going. She would have to flatten a city in her search for some hint at where he may have been going next, but as soon as she caught word she would take off again, barely touching the ground.
Sometimes she slept on benches and on patches of grass on side walks, but she did not mind at all. She could see Jude when she spoke to the people he had spoken to, begged them to tell her the same stories they had told him, so she could imagine she was hearing it with him. And every night before she curled up to sleep, whether it was on a bench, a patch of grass, or some spare bed someone had been kind enough to trust her to, she took out her little box with the tin foil and plastic gifts that Jude had given her. Even the nights when she would cry in her sleep, she clutched that box to her chest, and yes, she was happy. She loved him.
Jude had started to feel the strangest thing. He had never been one for ghost stories or the spiritualist movement that seemed so popular nowadays, but so often he could swear he felt Lorelai nearby. It was never very close, always at a distance, but it was unmistakable. He felt sure she must be angry with him, after all, he was angry with him. He was the reason she was dead, he had brought it down upon her head, but now her spirit wouldn’t come any closer. The sting of losing her had started to become almost manageable, but now, this distance, it made it impossible for him to switch his mind off to her.
As far as he had travelled, he had been collecting things. Little pieces of inconsequential fluff: some pretty things, and interesting things, and shiny things, all gifts for someone whom he’d never see again. But he was not searching them out specifically; he felt no sense of reprieve in them, but simply accumulated pointless gifts like a weak magnet pulls up only the small pins and thumbtacks. He was looking for absolution, but he knew that it would not be found in something he could have given her. He knew, in his navy suit and flying goggles, with his bread and balloon and his living adventures, the only symmetry he could offer would be to find the most beautiful music in the world, and to see the lights of a thousand stars up close.
But while many of the things he had shown Lorelai through Otto’s eyes came from things he had read, were based on real places, real sights and sounds recorded by others who had witnessed them in the flesh, he had no idea what to make of his own poetic musings. He had created this untenable task for Otto precisely because it was impossible, because it would afford Otto the right to wander forever, to never stop and never go home. Jude had no desire to ever return to what had been his home, but atonement was a need that gave him no sleep and insisted when he tried to evade its grasp.
I spoke today to a man whose whole body has been covered in ink. He was tattooed from his face and head shaved bald to allow for more space, to his hands and feet, and each picture he said had a story. Of course, I told him how much we love stories, and I asked him to tell me one. He said we could exchange stories, one of mine for one of his.
Of course, I told him about you, Lori, I hope you don’t mind. I’ve told many people about you, but he was the first person I told about us. It was harder than I thought it would be.
This big man, built like a house with olive dark skin and rough hands pulled his shirt collar down to show me something. He pointed out a picture on his chest, right in middle on his clavicle bone, of a snake eating its own tail. It was a strange, medieval looking thing, like a woodcut, and he said it was called Ouroboros. He said that the snake was something that had no beginning or end, a circle that reflects itself at all points. It ends where it began, it begins where it ended. I like this, Lori. It’s like us. But I have to worry, that even if I can find the music and the stars, if it will be an ending or beginning?
You should see how big The Saint is getting. I think we know each other very well, me and her. She understands, and I understand. And she’s a great little spy. I’ll go off through a new town, finding stories or something to add to my trove of gifts, and when we reconvene back at the basket, she’ll have come back with some illicit kipper or trail of sausages. For someone so small she manages to cart off a simply astounding amount of illegitimate food. Not that I object, we have to take what we can get, and she’s always good enough to wait for me before we eat her spoils.
And I love you, Lori. I know you’re there, and if you can forgive me, I hope you’ll come closer someday.
Lorelai would often come to a town still warm from Jude’s recent departure. She would be turned down jobs on account of a charming young man who had just recently fixed the gutters, swept the lawn, help balance the books in the patisserie. Sometimes, she would manage to get ahead of him, and reached the next town before he did, and he would be turned down the chance to paint the old church, help erect the mayor’s new garden water feature, or carry the Burns family’s belongings down the street to their new home, as some girl in industrial leather boots had been here just before.
It went this way for months, and neither found the rest they sought. Jude would have to start leaving some of his souvenir gifts behind, running out of space in the basket or having been weighed down by the sheer mass of them. Lorelai would check the jewellery stores and pawn shops in every town and city she came to, just on the off chance she might see a ring or a locket that might serve as a good approximation for those she had lost. Sometimes she would pick up a small novelty spoon on the street, the kind with an elaborate stem and an enamel illustration in honour of the town it was bought in. She might find a hand mirror, beautiful and delicate but cracked as though dropped from a great height. Once she found a trail of bright coloured glass stones scattered across a field, as though someone had simply discarded them or left them for her to find. She kept as many of the small things she found this way as she could, her own souvenirs of her adventures. She wrote no stories and did not seek out any more than the ones she believed to have been told to Jude, but his little diary was growing ever fatter with letters to her, and local stamps, pictures, newspaper clippings all messily stuck in as a visual guide to the journey itself.
He learned so many wonderful things. A Body of Divinity Bound in Black Calf was a parson. Sonoluminescence is the strange phenomena that occurs when sound is so loud that it produces light. A Churchyard Cough was one that was likely to end in death. The Sevem Bore was a tidal wave off the Sevem River which was most spectacular around the equinoxes. He learnt of a yard of ale and antipodes, of the sailing stones in Death Valley- rocks that move over years across a clean desert plain, leaving long deep tracks behind them with no scientific explanation for their movement. He sailed his balloon under and through the canopy of great bridges, watching the architecture pass him by, amazed people on the ground shielding their eyes against the sun, pointing at the great impossible passage. He felt surreal, doing the things he did, felt sometimes that the laws of physics and logic lay themselves down for him, allowed him experiences and advantages no man should have had in his particular situation.
A scholar in Rome told him of the Music of the Spheres, Musica Universalis- the music created by the proportions and the movements of the planets in their heavenly orbits, too loud for human ears to hear. He was fascinated to discover that English is one of the few languages that distinguishes between blue and green, was pleasantly perplexed to see a stringy fellow in Austria play something called a Theremin by only manipulating its two antennas, and was awash with feelings of inexplicable nostalgia for things that had never happened at the haunting music it produced.
But by far his favourite discovery was of the Aurora Borealis. Light like souls rising from the earth in their last bid for heaven, green and pink and yellow in the night sky, dancing like the light of a thousand stars up close. Go to where it’s cold, he was told, to the most northern part of the world. It will be impossible to do in a hot air balloon, though, for sure, the astronomer told him. But the laws of the possible and impossible had already opened up for him like so many willing flowers, and he set off for the icy peaks of the North Pole.
Lorelai was making the same journey, although it still remained her reluctant secret. She realized early on that something so ridiculous as going to the North Pole ought to be fiction for her, ought to be something fanciful. But much as before, like a snake swallowing its own tail, the ridiculous and the fanciful turned resolute. As far as she went she stocked up on warmer clothes and tinned food, begged until she found someone willing and able to teach her how to make a fire, and waterproofed her knapsack. On the tail of the red and blue balloon she travelled across oceans she did not know the names to, and across continents that remained entirely foreign to her. They reached North America at roughly the same time, and both set off for colder climates.
She was the first of the two to make it to Canada, but she fell behind in having to find someone with a dog sled willing to take her to the pole. It cost her everything she had, including a few of the souvenirs she had collected on the way, but eventually the race was set.
Jude in his balloon made similar provisions, with thermal blankets and woollen everything, he laughed off every new naysayer ready to disabuse him of his unerring belief in his balloon. He stopped also in Canada, getting ready for the final thrust, and found shelter for the weekend with a very game old lady called Giselle, the kind of world-weathered woman who chopped her own wood and slaughtered her own pigs.
He liked her immediately. She was surprised at so many out of town visitors in one week, she had only just housed a lovely lass who had been quite determined to make her way to the pole, fancy! Giselle made hot cocoa for her and Jude and lay out some warm cream for The Saint, and they sat around the fireplace under blankets while Jude told her stories of the world he had seen.
There was a slight panic in the new week, when Jude was preparing to take off, and no one could find The Saint. He had been to Borneo and Australia and Germany and beyond, and they had stopped in hundreds of towns, never having had any residence for more than a few nights at a time, but The Saint had always shown up when she was needed. He barely need call her for the most part, they understood each other. But now, Giselle and Jude were both wandering about her small house, calling themselves hoarse to find the little black and white companion, and Jude was starting to worry. He needed to leave if he was to reach the pole by the winter equinox- by needs the best time to see the Northern Lights. He could not leave without The Saint. He was terrified of the flight ahead, and he needed her to keep from going insane, he was sure.
A lengthy search yielded results at last. Giselle found The Saint holed up in her warm attic under a pile of old camping equipment that had formed something of a cave. In that little alcove lay the Cat, terribly pleased with herself and the four kittens suckling at her belly. She lounged back lazily and without apology as the two humans fussed over her and the newborns, and simply licked her front paw in indifference. But Jude could see she was pleased as punch under her attempted façade, and knew also that there was no way he could take The Saint and four newborn kittens with him in a hot air balloon to the pole.
It was heavily and with not a little remorse that he remanded the warm, fuzzy lot into Giselle’s care, promising to come back on his return journey. She was delighted of the company, and promised to take good care of his friend until they could take up their journey together again. That night, his letter to Lorelai was short.
I love you. I’m sorry.
Together and apart they rode out the harrowing road that led north. Lorelai found herself crying inexplicably at times that she didn’t think quite merited it, but her guide assured her this was normal. She could feel old joins in her bones ache where old wounds reasserted themselves, but they pressed on.
Above and ahead, Jude was trussed up in so many layers of fleeced clothing that he looked rather comical and round, with as little flesh exposed as possible. He smiled once when he realized he could not feel his nose and chin, and tried to make a cup of tea. It froze. He looked up into the depths of the balloon over head as he heard sounds like the cold crying, the creaking of ice crystals setting in where they oughtn’t be. He looked North, and as he had not done in many, many years, prayed.
He was twenty-three, she was twenty when they reached the most northern point in our world. In polar night they stood and watched the light of a thousand stars dance up close, green and pink and yellow, like souls, finally free. Beyond even that the sun and moon and the planets in their orbits sung a song of no particular melody, so great and so loud that no human ear can hear it, and sung it just for them.
The most beautiful music in the world, music beyond the world, just for them.
In case you were wondering, as I’m sure you were, they found each other there. At the feeling of absolution that washed over him, Jude finally felt Lorelai moving closer, and was astonished. She was not.
He was wearing the ring and was clutching the locket when she came to him, and she felt a relief like sliding into a warm bath at being able to cover the nakedness of her right hand once more. They both cried, but perhaps that’s normal in the North Pole. They watched the lights and listened to what they did not know they could hear, and they were happy.
He loved her. She loved him. They were happy.
They never went home again, and they were happy.