NP6–Chapter 6: Her Face

Ah well, I’m back to chapter titles! And, finally, here’s what you’ve all been waiting for: a chapter focusing on Ian. Ah, note! Elissa wrote her own version of how Ian and Elaine met (hint, hint: I’m addressing this in the chapter)–which is absolutely lovely, by the way…Please, go over and read her post here: White Roses and White Ghosts. Enjoy!

Summary: For the Love of Elaine, set in the 1930s, recounts the investigation of young and sweet Elaine Whitney’s murder, focusing on the contrast of love with lust and the effects of guilt. The main characters include Gifford Boswell, the elderly Chadwick estate butler and guardian of Elaine; Ian Donald, the estate’s young gardener and close friend/lover to Elaine; Richard Farrell, the Chadwick’s newly hired personal detective; and Vera Sloan, the bitter, tough-as-nails, platinum blonde with an unconquerable ambition to escape her life as the estate’s cook. In the last installment, Detective Farrell interrogates Boswell, Vera, and Ian. We learn that Boswell adopted an orphaned Elaine when she was little more than an infant. Vera reveals her bitterness toward the late butler’s protegee. And Ian reluctantly discloses his and Elaine’s close relationship under Farrell’s consistent prying: they were friends, but on Ian’s side there might have been more to his fondness for her. Farrell keeps a calm composure throughout the interrogation, if not expressing slight devious pleasure at uncovering stoic and immovable Ian’s affection. As the chapter is told mostly from Vera’s perspective, we get a glimpse behind her steely complexion and into her emotions and background: she ran away from a crowded, dysfunctional home at only fifteen and seems to be hiding something related to Elaine’s murder. The second half of the chapter recounts Vera’s wanderings on the estate as she grapples with her conscience. Unintentionally, she witnesses Ian’s arrest.

Ian stepped into the iron cell at the far end of the police station corridor. The cell door shut with a bang, and the keys clanged against the lock. Their sounds reverberated down the cold cement hall, over-taking the fading voices of two policemen and the taunting jingle of jail keys.

          Turning, Ian stared out the small bared window, cut high and deep in the thick wall. Along the outside of his cell ran an abandoned ally, infested with tossed-out trash cans and mountains of clutter. A lone beam of late-summer sunshine shone across the opposite side of the ally, cooking the pavement. Inside the cell, summer had long disappeared. The walls were chilled to the touch. Beads of moisture ran down one of their coarse sides, kissing it with winter frigidity.

          As though his cage was baring down him, Ian sank to the ground. He clasped his hands tightly together and closed his eyes.

          Four days. He had four days until his trial—four days to wait trapped, alone, powerless, captive to memory and grief.

          Now, with his eyes closed, Elaine’s face flitted before him, dim and faint like candle-light. But as his memory cleared, the image steadied, burning bright. Her childlike delight, her wrapped wonder, her pensive brow, her blooming smile, her gentle touch—he was as struck by her soft glow as when he first laid eyes on her, whispering secrets to the roses in the garden…  

           Five months ago, on a May day, the sun had been sinking behind the horizon, setting the world ablaze in a pink aurora. A sweet fragrance had wafted along the breeze. Incessant, the buzz and rumble of bustling spring bugs had thrummed through the air.

           Ian had been clipping the rose hedges, his strong tanned hands on the sheers. In between clips, however, he seemed to hear a voice. It rippled with laughter or floated with song, weaving into the insects’ humming. At first, he believed it must have been the breeze blowing through the brambles or the chatter of spring robins. But as the sound grew louder, he noticed a soft rustle as of steps in the grass accompanying it, and now the voice was distinctly human—or at least, specifically intelligible. Ian stopped clipping to listen.

           “I’ve missed you too, my dear Rosalind, and the most of all” the voice cooed. “I thought of you almost every day and wished with all my heart to come running to you. You know, I have secrets, dear Rosalind,” the voice lowered to an urgent whisper, “…but I need to say them, and forget them, once and for all…”

            Ian had heard enough. He had no intention of eaves-dropping, yet neither did he intend to slink away as though he had committed a crime. Rather, picking up his toolbox, he straightened his back and stoically strolled along the rose bushes to another flower bed. But, upon turning a corner in the garden, Ian stopped in his tracks at the scene he beheld.

          Sitting in the grass, her eyes closed, a young woman rested her cheek against the cream petals of a rose, its porcelain hue reflected in her milky skin. Her light brown waves were bedecked with a wreath of tiny field flowers. Some of them dangled out of the weave precariously, drooping like leaves drowning in dew. She wore an organza dress, its translucent tint glowing like moonlight in the falling dusk. Evenly spread about her, the skirt lay in a soft circle as the evening breeze teased its hem.

          She must have felt his gaze, for she opened her eyes and looked up at him.

          “Oh, hello,” she said, slightly surprised, a warm pink rising in her cheeks.

          Caught in her gentle hazel eyes, Ian had forgotten to respond.

           She began to stand, and reacting, he stepped forward with an out-stretched hand.

          “Thank you.” She rose and lightly slid her hand from his. “I’m Elaine, the butler’s daughter. I just came back from school.”

          So, this was Elaine, he had thought, the butler’s protegee. The previous week Boswell had glided through his duties and had even donned an incessant smiled. All this unusual exuberance appeared to stem from the approaching arrival of his little girl. As he had explained to Ian himself with the put-on nonchalance of a peacock-proud parent, the apple of his eye was graduating from girl’s school, first in her class, and coming home to Chadwick Estate for good. Nonetheless, Elaine’s name had long-before been known to the gardener: Boswell had constantly spoken of his young charge, show-casing the fine pipe she had given him for his birthday and comparing her to a veritable angel on earth. Having met her, for the first time in all his wandering years, Ian was inclined to agree with someone else’s charitable description of a person.

          “You must be the new gardener, Mr. Donald,” she timidly ventured, glancing up into his fixed gaze.

          He started. “Ian Donald,” he assented.

          “Ian…” Elaine let it linger on her lips and smiled, seemingly pleased with its sound. “The garden looks lovely. It’s a favorite haunt of mine.” She tucked a stray strand of hair behind an ear. In doing so, one of the dangling flowers of her wreath fell to the ground. “Oh, I hope you don’t mind I picked these!” she softly exclaimed, bending down to claim the fallen daisy as a sheepish grin like that of a child caught in mischief covered her face. But as she stood up, the flower wreath slid off her silky hair as well.

         Ian had retrieved the crown and had gently laid it on her head. “I don’t mind,” he had answered, too gruffly he feared…

         Her warm smile faded from his memory, and in its place appeared her face as the last time he had laid eyes on her.

         Blue. Purple. Marble on a background of porcelain.

         Cold. Lifeless. An empty, disregarded casket.

          No, that had not been her face that he had seen crumpled on the floor amidst crimson roses and shards of glass. Her face consisted of so much more than mere physiognomy. Her face was the revelation of her soul, and with her soul departed, it lacked life. Yet even as he thought these things, Ian realized that, perhaps, Elaine’s soul no longer remained in the body, but the shadow of her presence still dwelled there. Like the dents and scratches and notches which past owners leave behind in an old house, Elaine’s soul had left its mark on her temporal home. And it was this recognizable hint in her physical face which sourced the torrid flood within Ian: death seemed to taunt him with a glimpse of that which he loved, denying him the fulness of the promise for the rest of his life.

          The cement walls stood straight—stolid, unmoved. Outside, the sun still shone. Inside, the iron bars remained unbent, unfeeling.

           Ian rested his head on his knees and wept.      


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