Among the Fallen - Fragment #3...
Wendl VonTrier pops up when I least expect him. Most recently, while sitting in my old Isuzu pickup, aka Sue, in Black Mountain, gazing at a frog who was taller than me. I'm not sure if Wendl is telling me any kind of story here, but if you are curious, you can trace our current series of encounters on Drovers Gap Blog beginning August 19th.
After a quick stop at Dolf’s Market to buy some half-and-half for Wendl’s morning coffee, Ellajane arrived back at hemlock Cottage to find him sitting on her front steps as if he were right at home, intent on a battered old book. She assumed it was the one he’d bought from Gloria.
“Hello, Mister VonTrier,” she called cheerfully as she came up her walk, sincerely glad she’d taken in a reader instead of a gambler or a drinker or some kind of kinky predator. “That must be an interesting book that has you reading out here in the heat of the day.”
Wendl looked up, smiled, closed his book, holding his place with a long spidery finger, “Yes it is. In fact, it is the last existing printed copy of this title. I was fortunate to find it.”
“Are you a collector, then, Mister VonTrier?”
“Wendl, please. He stood, holding his book in front of him as if presenting evidence in court. “Not of books, necessarily, but I do collect stories. This particular book happens to be part of one of my favorites.”
Ellajane fumbled awkwardly in her purse, searching for her keys while trying to keep her grocery bag from slipping through her arm and making a splattering mess on her porch floor.
Wendl dropped his book onto the big wooden rocker beside the door and reached out with both hands and said “Let me hold that for you.” The grocery bag appeared in his grasp before Ellajane realized she had released it.
Slightly flustered, she opened the door and Wendl followed her down the hall and into her kitchen, still clutching her little bag. He set it on the table and turned to go as Ellajane, who never offered hospitality to her renters beyond an orderly room, clean linens and a decent breakfast, heard herself saying, “I’m going to fix myself some iced tea with fresh mint. Would you like a glass, Mister VonTrier, Wendl?”
“I never refuse hospitality,” murmured Wendl, which wasn’t precisely an answer to her question, though Ellajane counted it sufficing as acceptance of her invitation. She hoped a glass of iced tea would generate opportunity to glean some intelligence regarding her mysterious guest. If there were any intriguing secrets connected to Wendl VonTrier, she wanted to be the first in town to know them.
She stirred the pitcher, then poured the tea into two glasses. She was about to reach into the refrigerator first, but saw the glasses already filled with ice, although she didn’t remember doing it. You’re getting old, dear girl. The knees are first to go, then the mind. After a brief interior deliberation, she hauled out into the light the last surviving bit of her winter’s fruitcake which had only improved as it aged, thanks to regular annointings from an ancient bottle of whisky that had flavored and preserved the cakes of many winters though it had never filled a glass. She cut a thin slice for herself and a slightly thicker one for her guest, set them on their little plates beside the tea glasses.
She sat down, immediately embarrassed because she had forgotten forks, but Wendl promptly reached out, broke a piece of his cake with his fingers and delivered it to his mouth, held it there as he sat for a moment in rapturous silence, gazing through the window at Ellajane’s sunny yard. His expression assured Ellajane that he savored her cake with all the appreciation it was due.
She gazed at Wendl expectantly, and was not disappointed when, having received his bit of cake deeper into his being, he whispered, “This is exquisite, Miss Trammel. It makes me homesick for the Abbey.”
Now we’re getting somewhere. Aloud, she queried, “The Abbey? Where’s that now?
“Oh, now, it isn’t,” said Wendl, his smile all in his eyes, “But in one of my former lives, I resided in an intentional religious community for a time. Among our other activities, we made fruit cakes and kept bees in order to earn our keep in the larger world. Honey and cake. Our life was sweet.”
“You were a monk?” said Ellajane, craving details.
“I was a visitor,” Wendl said, pausing mid-sentence to sip his tea, “Who stayed longer than anyone intended when I arrived.”
Ellajane permitted herself a chuckle, “I should warn you then, Brother Wendl, that more than a few who pass through Drovers Gap on their way to someplace else are drawn to stay awhile. Some of them, in fact, never get around to leaving.” Like me.
Wendl looked his soundless laugh at her, then lilted, “Dear Miss Trammel, I’m not on my way to any place I know.”
Later, after Wendl had excused himself with profuse thanks and gone off to his room carrying her instruction, “Breakfast at seven,” Ellajane went out to sweep her front porch as she did every morning at sunrise and every evening at dusk, always in hope she might exchange some friendly insult with a passing neighbor. She found Wendl’s book lying apparently forgotten on the chair. The worn cover evidenced a hard life. From the look of it, she thought it might well be the last surviving copy of its kind. She picked it up, read the title, The Forest Soul, by Millicent McTeer. The tattered old volume seemed on the brink of escaping its binding, but curious, she opened it carefully, looked at a page, then another, then several. All the pages were blank.
-Continued on September 23rd.
-Continued on September 23rd.