The Chauffeur

Based on the song of the same name

In the moments before dawn, a blue and silver vintage sports car pulled up before an Exeter townhouse. A young man, carelessly dressed in a sports coat and tie-less shirt, slipped out and rang the doorbell. Moments later, he was greeted warmly by a middle-aged woman in a housecoat.

As they stepped quietly through the hallway, the young man looked about his surroundings with consternation. “I was rather expecting a beehive of activity,” he said.

Liana stopped to face him. “Royce, they’re gone.”

In the kitchen lay the remnants of a breakfast on the table. Liana set a pot to boil and began salvaging a meal for Royce.

Royce said, “I don’t understand. I mean, I am late. I couldn’t leave Cambridge before midnight. And then I over-slept at a rest stop. But I’m not that late.”

Liana sat next to him. “Dear, they were gone before you were due to arrive.”

“What? Who exactly is `they?’ Kenna and Tuesday and who else?”

“They went with Zina and her boyfriend.”

“But why?”

She touched his shoulder sympathetically. “What I can say is that Aithley expected to ride with Zina. She lost her place to Kenna. She’s been upstairs crying ever since. Why don’t you pop in and see what you can do to cheer her up.”

In the upstairs hallway, Royce knocked on a door. A muffled voice within said, “Go away.”

“It’s Royce.”

“I’m not fit for human company. Didn’t they tell you?”

“I have also lost my human company.”

After a moment of silence, the door opened. A waifish teen-age girl, wearing a crisp white knee-length summer dress, stood before him. Her face was still flushed from weeping. They hugged and took seats on her bed.

“Do you know what happened?” Royce asked.

“No! The intimacies I receive are the detritus of action! I am the object of headless, throbbing action!” Aithley railed as she pressed her head against his chest. He put his arm around her.

“Kenna took your place? What did she say?”

“Circumstance dictates a change of plan and no one laments it more than she.”

“That’s it?”

“I might add that I am substantially advanced in my project to prove her wrong.”

“Your mother has suggested that I might be able to cheer you up.”

“Have you abandoned your university studies for the occult? Otherwise, I cannot imagine what power you possess that might put you equal to the task.”

“I have the power of a blue and silver Shelby Cobra. Your mother suggests that you might be in need of a chauffeur, and here also, my powers are formidable.”

Royce and Aithley got in the car. In the dim morning light, she felt the upholstery and ran her hand across the dashboard. She smiled reluctantly. “It’s nice.”

Royce started the motor. “It’s a restored original. My father gave it to me for my eighteenth birthday.”

Once they reached the open highway, Aithley asked, “So, what’s uni like, practically speaking?”

“Well, it’s more fun than grammar school. No one notices whether you attend class.”

“You mean, you needn’t attend class?”

“That’s right.”

“Then how do you pass your exams?”

“That’s the trick,” Royce said with a wink. “One is judged by the freedom one has acquired and one’s management of it. University is meant to teach you some special field of knowledge. The reality is, five years after graduation, you’re unlikely to be working in that very field. What people really want to know is, how do you manage freedom?”

After twenty minutes of university stories, Aithley seemingly managed to gather enough courage for a new topic: “Papa says our family possesses a genetic endowment which is as modest as our finances: Kenna has been given the beauty and I have been given the brains. There are no double portions of anything at our house.”

“Alcohol seems available in double portions in your house.”

Aithley pressed on, “And yet I often wonder if men realise how ephemeral beauty is, and that it will soon–“


Aithley quickly shifted her gaze to the glove compartment before her. “Yes. Thank you for your candor.” With a distressed look, she continued, “Would you tell me, are there any secondary considerations to which a woman might have recourse?”

“Considerations other than beauty? I suppose sexiness would also be important.”

“Is that not another dimension of beauty?”

“No, not at all. Well, except that beautiful women are invited to be sexy… but sexiness is presentation, not product. There is hamburger, and there is Beef Wellington, both made of beef.”

Aithley smiled crookedly. “That’s a good answer.”

As the ride wore on, Aithley became more adventurous with her questions.

“If you were to wake up tomorrow as a woman, would you insist on your old identity, or would you try to adapt unnoticed?”

Later, she proposed, “A meteor brings a virus that wipes out ninety percent of the world’s men. You therefore become a minor celebrity. But your wife resents the media attention. What do you do?”

Finally, she asked, “Imagine that you were honor-bound to accept a slave from a former schoolmate from Morocco. How would you explain her to family and friends?”

“Slavery is outlawed even in Morocco, you know,” Royce said.

“It’s just hypothetical.”

“So why mention Morocco at all?”

“Agh! Just…” she shook her hands. “You can have a slave from where-ever! That’s not important. What’s important is that you have a problem.”

“Could she be Japanese? With Japanese eyes and little Japanese smile?”

“Let’s not make it complicated. Let’s just say English.”

“I think Japanese would be less complicated.”

“English is more neutral, in this context.”

“So born in England to Japanese parents would be okay, right?”

“No! Ordinary bread and pudding English!”

“I thought we were setting up some kind of sexual situation, that’s all.”

“What? You mean, you wouldn’t have an English sex slave?”

“Isn’t that like alcohol-free whiskey? Playing football with no ball? A party where—”

“I don’t think you’re cut out for the slave trade. You lack a certain je-ne-sais-quoi, I find.”

“I suppose you’d be better at it.”

“Well, for starters, I wouldn’t make fun of her! A woman, whose one act of devotion is not of her choosing, is not a proper object of ridicule! It’s heartless!”

“I would never actually tell her that having an English sex slave is like having a tax audit of each of your–“

“WHAT is it that you could do to make her forget that she’s not Japanese?”

“I could set her free.”

“No! You have to keep her! That’s the situation. Agh! Never mind!” Aithley turned away abruptly and stared out the side window.

Royce glanced over at her and smiled softly. “I would take her with me everywhere.”


“I would tell everyone that she’s my wife, in order to avoid raising suspicions. Pretty tricky, eh?”

“That would be a big sacrifice.”

“So is being a slave.”

“Yeah.” Aithley smiled and added, “That’s a good answer.” She fell into an uncertain silence until she noticed an exit announcement. “Can we take A391 instead? And put the top down? It won’t take much longer, and it’s so much more fun.”

“Why not?”

On a secondary road lined with the occasional stone house and trees, Aithley shouted in the open air, “I love the sound this car makes! Can you hear it? It’s throbbing.” Royce smiled. She continued, “… rawr wawr rawr wow yow how it’s like an alter ego it’s me as a car far rawr wawr rawr…”

With false consternation, Royce shouted, “Here comes a roundabout!”

Aithley pressed herself into the seat. “Don’t slow down!”

“Waaaaaa hang on!” The tires squealed as they entered and exited on the left side of the circle.

“Oh my god oh my god!”

Royce looked back over his shoulder. “See that? Did you see that? That was precision engineering at your blessed service!”

Several minutes later, the car passed into a foggy low-lying area. Aithley stood suddenly. Leaning against the windscreen, she held her hands aloft as they passed through the fog. “I love it! It’s so cool! Foom!” she shouted.

Royce seized her thigh under her flapping dress pleats, and held her fast, while keeping the car steady with the other hand. “Would you please keep your seat?!”

She dropped into her seat, and with a raised eyebrow said, “That was unexpected!”

“I can hardly imagine what got hold of you!”

“I dare say you did imagine… and not without consequent!”

“Yes, sorry about that. You must appreciate my concern, given the circumstances.”

Aithley watched the passing scenery. “I have appreciated lesser things…”

Royce glanced at her uncertainly, but did not dare ask what she meant.

They were the only customers at a small service station. Aithley wandered to the edge of the asphalt while Royce manned the pump.

“Look at the haze,” Aithley said. “The road just disappears into it. The aphid swarms are nearly a living part of it.”

“When it’s humid like that, the rain isn’t far behind.”

“No…” she moaned, “How can it rain today? Why must we be constantly reminded of the magiclessness of our lives? I cannot believe, and I do not accept, that my passions and heartache should not bend reality. Nature simply has nothing with which to compare!”

Royce put up the nozzle. “Certainly, nature is no match for two of us!”

“And blue-silver!” she shouted, and skipped back to the car. “That makes three!”

Shortly after they’d gotten underway again, a raindrop hit Royce’s sunglasses. “There are the first drops. I had better put up the top.”

“No! Don’t capitulate! It must not rain!”

“Look! There’s Carlton!” he cried out. “And ahead, I recognize that car as well!” Royce immediately forgot about the rain.

Aithley bounced in her seat. “Pass them! Pass them!”

As the car accelerated, Aithley scrambled to her feet.

Royce shouted over, “What are you doing?”

“I’m standing again.”

Their gazes locked in what seemed time outside of time. She was already crouching on the seat. The skirt of her dress had fallen back to her hips with the carelessness of a child, although the shape of her legs had already lost the corresponding form. Her dress now visibly clung to every part of her body that had been in contact with the leather seat, and which had steeped in sweat. Hair moved in slow motion around a face that was waiting expectantly for either an invitation or a scolding.

Then time resumed.

He said, “Shoes.”

She said, “Right.”

She kicked off her flats and stood, one foot on either seat, leaning into Royce. It had occurred to Royce during the pause of time that they would pass the other cars in the right hand lane. As he sat on the left side of his American-made car, his schoolmates would not see him holding Aithley’s leg, and he would escape all schoolboy bantering.

Aithley waved and shouted over his head as they passed the other two cars. “Hold back the rain! We won’t have it! We’ll send the clouds packing!”

The other cars honked in response, accompanied by excited shouts. “Hold back the rain!” she cheered. “Hold back the rain!”

The three cars descended a hill to a large sandy cove neighboring a tourist village. Aithley whirled around to kneel facing backwards. She waved to the other cars, shouting, “We’re here! And clear skies! We did it!”

Royce and Aithley, loaded with picnic gear, trudged across a well-visited beach toward a group of about twenty young people setting out blankets, umbrellas, and coolers. When Aithley heard her name called out, she dropped her load and ran to her older sister and her friends.

When Royce caught up, a young woman blocked his path with her body. Legs: former gymnast. Waist: also gymnast-y, could be thinner. Breasts: small but firm. Jaw: patrician. Lips: thin. Eyes: steel blue. Hair: hazel brown, sumptuous. But this automatic read-out had been generated a hundred times already. “Tuesday! Hi…” his voiced trailed off uncertainly.

“Royce, don’t,” she said. He looked questioningly into her eyes. “Just don’t.” She shook her head without speaking further, and returned to the group.

Royce wandered off, bewildered. He dazedly met several former schoolmates. Throughout, Kenna and Royce exchanged long intermittent stares. She was Tuesday’s friend – their photos would be paired by any test subject – but she was the thinner, more undressable of the two. The fabric of her summer dress was so thin that under breeze, it revealed her every curve, and Royce was reminded with sharp intensity of the enterprise that was so very central to his Exeter visits.

A young man with short curly blond locks approached him carrying a wine glass. He observed the stare exchange for a moment, and asked, “I say, did you have a falling-out with your girlfriend?”

It occurred to Royce that although Kenna was returning his stare, her ruminations were entirely alien to his own. Not that he’d assumed differently; he hadn’t assumed anything, in fact. “Apparently,” Royce said, “Yes, quite.”

Carlton showed Royce to a collection of beach towels laid under a canvas pavilion. “Wendy and I are here.” They sat and Carlton pursed his lips. “Sooo… what’s going on?”

“I don’t know. Everything was fine the last time we talked.”

“And when was that?”

“A fortnight.”

“You haven’t spoken together for two weeks?”

“Oh, I don’t know if it was exactly two weeks, could have been ten days. You know, exams. She said she understood. Hang on. There’s my little spy by the water’s edge. It looks like she’s made her escape.”

Royce made his way over to Aithley, who was idly collecting shells where the surf had receded. She stood up upon his approach, without even looking at him. “Why are the seagulls going west? Don’t they know Ireland is north of here?”

Royce stood behind her and looked out to sea. “There is a hollow island to the west of here.”

“Hollow? How can that be?”

“Shattered rim of a volcano.”

“What’s it called?” she asked.

“Scilly Island.”

“Silly Island? Aren’t you the gay one! Although I do find in the current circumstance your festiveness more impressive than your wit.”

Royce looked over his shoulder at Kenna’s gathering. “Did she tell you what’s going on?”


“She watches you like a hawk.”

“She has forbidden me to speak to you, other than communicating that fact. However, I am permitted to explore on my own, and I am presently disposed to explore near the coast guard lookout, if you must know.”

Royce and Carlton trudged up a narrow dirt path on a hill over-looking the ocean. At the edge of a cliff was a fenced stone patio with a decommissioned stone watchman’s hut to one side. Aithley was standing by the guardrail, looking out to sea. She turned at the sound of their approach and smiled half-heartedly. “You brought a friend.”

Royce said, “This is Carlton Bates, a dear dear friend from grammar school.”

Aithley shook his hand. “The pleasure is mine. I have heard so much about you.”

“Really?” Carlton asked suspiciously. “May you betray your source?”

“My mother has often warned me that any association with Master Phillips here would lead me to Master Bate.”

Royce exclaimed, “You saucy thing!”

Carlton sighed. “That’s Bates with an ‘s,’ and I’m afraid the joke has already had a long and tired career, Miss…?”

“Grenier,” Aithley said.

“French? Now much is explained.”

“My family is entirely English,” Aithley protested. “In fact, the name comes from the site where resistance was held against Norman penetration.”

“If I remember my French lessons, a grenier is a barn loft.”

“Yes, well, the resistance was more spirited than effective. When I say my family is entirely English, I mean in spirit, not in ancestry.”

Carlton laughed, “You are a saucy sprite!”

“Please excuse her,” Royce interjected. “She is of… that age.”

“Which is, in years?” Carlton asked.

“I should very much like a view from the roof.” Aithley announced. “Would Master Phillips be so kind as to assist me?”

Carlton said, “Be forewarned: the ascent may risk your modesty, Miss Grenier.”

“I would that Master Phillips had less familiarity with my underskirts,” Aithley lamented, “but those happy days are but girlish diary entries now. What little modesty that remains to me can only annoy.”

Carlton turned to Royce, who had set about helping her up. “Really, old man? Come, now. You must get some blood let.”

“She exaggerates, I assure you,” Royce muttered under load, “She is prone to it. She is sworn to it. In fact, she is nothing but its minion.”

From the roof, Aithley called back, “Oooh a damning charge, if you will, Master Bate, er… Master Carlton, but do not lose grasp of the fact that yesterday, I was propriety’s minion!”

Royce sighed. “Help me up, old sport?”

The trio wandered around the tiny roof and ended on the seaward side. Carlton said, “The view from up here is amazing. Everything seems so, so…”

“Two meters lower?” Royce suggested.

“I do believe you have captured the essence of it. You are an unwitting poet, my good fellow.”

Aithley scowled. “You gentlemen might be wondering why I have invited you here,” she said sternly. “Or you might be degenerating into general lack of employment. If the latter, I swear to you, as a Christian, a Briton, and a woman, I will not be your witness!”

Carlton bowed. “Miss Grenier, please forgive us. We’ve only recently returned from the Continent.”

“Take your seats, please,” Aithley said. “I may explain this only once: I say a word, and the first letter of the next word must be the same as the last letter of the previous word. The first person with a completion wins a point. Clear? I’ll start. Hairy.”

“Yellow,” Royce came back.

“Water,” said Carlton.

“Hairy yellow water?” Royce snorted, “What is that? You can’t do that.”

“No one said they had to be semantically related!” Carlton protested.

“Wildebeests!” Aithley said.





“Sherry! Hairy yellow wildebeests sip priceless sherry!” Aithley giggled.

“Next one: I,” Royce said.

“Indicate,” Now, only he and Aithley played, their gazes locked.






Aithley blushed. “You must try too, Master … Carlton.”

“You know, saying ‘Carlton’ doesn’t really help,” Carlton said.

“Well, then, it’s high time you got your Indian name,” Aithley said.

“What’s that?”

“You know, like Sitting Bull or Dances with Wolves. It comes from some defining incident or characteristic. Bates is just your baby-name.”

Royce added, “Although in this case, we risk ending where we started.”

“Tell us,” Aithley leaned toward Carlton, “What other skills do you hone regularly?”

“He is fond of horses,” Royce offered.

“Can one make a verb of ‘fond?'" Aithley asked. "‘Fondles Horses.’ Hard to stay mum’s favourite with a name like that! Hmm.”

“How about `Sipping Scotch?'” Carlton asked. “Because I have a premonition of a defining incident.”

“Right. It’s time to get back to camp,” Royce enjoined.

“And now, Miss Grenier, if I may use your French name,” Carlton drawled, “You must decide which of us will descend first, in order to … receive … your person.”

“Oh, this promises to be delightfully awkward!” Royce cooed.

“Little did you suspect, I have a plan!” Aithley said. “You will earn your Indian names from a different woman, I dare wager! Now, both of you will descend before me. Come on, then.”

Royce and Carlton worked their way down and came around to the front of the guardhouse, where she loomed over them, hands on hips.

“Okay, what’s your plan?” Royce asked.

“I think she is going to jump,” Carlton gasped.

“Please don’t jump.”

Aithley said, “I’m not going to jump. I’m going to fall. And you’re going to catch me.”

“Aithley!” Royce shouted. “Joke’s over. I’m coming up!”

She held her arms out to the sides.

“She’s going to do it!” Carlton seized Royce and pulled him beneath her.

Aithley turned her back to them. Breathing heavily, she leaned backward and tipped away from the precipice.

She landed cleanly in their trembling arms. She looked at each deliriously. “Woo! Oh my! I do believe I have fallen for you two boys!”

“You scamp!” Carlton gasped incredulously.

Aithley sprung from their arms and raced around them. “Carry me back!” she commanded.

“No, that’s enough!” Royce barked.

“Carry me back!”

“The path’s too narrow,” Carlton said.

“Then let me sit on your shoulders!”


“I have meticulously shaven as insurance against every possible embarrassment. You musn’t let how you feel about me limit how you handle the situation.”

“Are these puns?” Carlton hooted. “How we feel about you? Handle the situation?”

Royce gasped. “I’m at a loss for words. You, you are scandalous: a sneaky, unmoored, careening scandal! I don’t know what to do with you!”

“Carry me back!”

Carlton and Royce took turns carrying her down the steep and narrow path leading away from the cliff. Aithley began singing a drinking song she’d learned surreptitiously somewhere, and by the time they reached the village, all three sang. Carlton and Royce hoisted her between them to their shoulders and carried her through the streets like a football star. Upon reaching the edge of the parking lot bordering the beach, they set her down. She held Royce’s hand in hers while exchanging smiling gazes. Then she did the same with Carlton. Before either could think of something to say, she had taken flight across the beach back toward her sister’s camp.

“What an imp!” Carlton exclaimed.

“Saucy little thing,” Royce added.

“And witty.”




“Too bad about her–“

“Yes, a pity, that.”

After a barbeque with the main group, Carlton, Royce and a handful of others found themselves idling back at Carlton’s camp. Carlton and Royce soon lost all reference to industry and fell into utter disuse on parallel beach towels. Royce exhaled slowly. “Is it not the hell of being a man to so desperately desire what he does not need?”

“More beaujolais? Don’t be shy, man, right here.”

“Women, Carlton, I mean women!”

“Please reconsider wine.”

Royce propped himself up on his elbows. “Some nights, I cannot study; I am unfit for finer things.”

“Kenna is a fine thing. And a woman.”

“And the telephone filters both.”

“Ah, at last we … er … isn’t that little Aithley making her way up the hill behind us?”

Royce stood up. “Yeah. Keep some wine chilled for me, would you, old man?”

“Royce, wait. What is your enterprise? Just ask yourself.”

“I don’t know. Do I need one?”

Carlton stood up and drew near him to speak in low and intimate tones. “There is a second hell,” he said. “Where the first is desperately desiring what you do not need, the second is the opposite: desperately needing what you cannot desire. Where the first hell is a pit, the other is an uncanny labyrinth.”

“What do you know of it?”

“I know that no man should know both.”

Royce smiled dismissively. “I’ll not be away long.”

Royce was only a couple minutes behind Aithley in reaching the crest. Breathing heavily, he called out, “What are you doing here?”

Aithley stood serenely upon the crest. “The view. You can see the whole cove from here. Kenna can be seen from here. But alas, not heard.”

“What has gotten hold of her?”

“Old age. And spite of youth. Come away from the crest.”

They walked several meters away from the high wind of the crest, and wandered among the sarsen stones there. Aithley asked, “What do you see in her? Beyond her beauty?”

“When a woman is beautiful, she can make a man see in her anything.”

“I find your answer tiresome … and quite canine, honestly.”

“It is a madness, Aithley! A genetically-programmed madness! Can you imagine?! There is no logic. There is no cure. There is only the treatment. No, you cannot imagine!”

“You are tormented by her beauty, you poor thing. But where will you find torment after her glory has waned?”

“After procreation, Nature cares not a whit for its creatures. They are like empty Christmas parcels, cast aside, unwanted, faded, and yet full of holiday impulse. Nature cares not.”

“Then what have you to celebrate?”

“I wish I could celebrate my impulses as you can. But I am not a girl; my impulses have consequences.”

“You confound undesirability with girlhood. But I assure you, I am no girl.”

“Sorry … Yes, of course, I didn’t mean … But tell me, why do you speak of undesirability? What advantage or satisfaction do you draw from your self-denigration? What is your campaign?”

“What is it to you? Unless … does it make you feel unclean?”

Royce seemed caught by surprise. “Yes … um, yes, it does.”

“No woman escapes your triage. You believe that it’s all in your mind. You believe that no woman knows the number you’ve assigned to her. But you are considering creatures that have been genetically-programmed to read the simple minds of infants. And it is the hell of being a woman that men are often simple-minded.” Aithley walked a few steps away, then turned to say, “It’s absolution, isn’t it? What you want.”


“Why did you come here? What do you want from me? Relief from your madness. It’s the one thing I can give you that a beautiful woman cannot.”

Royce advanced upon her. “This is tripe.”

Aithley held out her arms like an unhinged madonna. “Kneel before me, my son.”

“Stop it.” He seized her arms and pinned them to her sides.

“Receive the absolution you seek. Receive my blessing.”

Royce shook her vexedly. “Stop it. Stop it!”

Aithley squirmed in his grip and finally gasped, “Or would you rather crush this horrible little thing from existence… from your sight?”

“No!” Royce hugged her tightly. “You are not horrible, or anything near it. Can you not see? Your words are horrible… they torment only those who find you dear.”

“I would never do you an unkindness. I would it so very otherwise. But how can I be disloyal to the truth? I have had no lover but the truth. And I have been severely loved.”

“How can you say such things? How can you injure so much? How can you?”

“I’m weary, Royce. Of the comparisons with Kenna. Of the demotions. From each friend. Every distant family member. I cannot fight it. I will not.”

“I do not concur,” he said. “I cannot conspire. My senses forbid it.”

“Perhaps you have not sense enough.”

“No? Then there must be a thief at hand.”

Aithley blushed. “I … I … You imply too much. You have lost the rudder of your wit, I think.”

“Aithley, I have done you the disservice today of suggesting that young men have limited considerations. Not because they don’t. But it is the magiclessness of their choices that impoverishes their considerations. Young men do not expect you. They cannot imagine the category of you.”

“You flatter me … I think. Unless my category is foul. Will you speak plainly? Could you in earnest recommend me to a young man?”

Royce drew her closer and looked into her eyes solemnly before speaking: “I would not recommend you to another man.”

“Aithley!” A voice caused them to separate abruptly.

“Yes?” Aithley called out.

Tuesday was ascending the slope, but was still below their line of sight. “Kenna would like to speak to you.”

“Might it not wait?” Aithley shouted back, with no small intimation of impatience.

“I’m not to return without you,” the voice said.

Bewildered by her turn of fortune, she said, “I have to go,” without looking at Royce, or indeed, anything in particular.

Royce wandered halfway down the side of the hill before pausing to take a seat. From his vantage point, he watched Tuesday and Aithley make their way to a small forward camp created by Kenna and several friends. Some had already entered the water. Upon arriving, Aithley was led away by her older sister. They spoke privately and intensely. At the end, Kenna left, leaving Aithley looking at the sand at her feet.

Aithley would not leave her sister’s group for the rest of the afternoon. During a volleyball game, and later, in a singing round, Royce looked over often. With few exceptions, she remained seated beneath an umbrella, looking out to sea.

With the sun’s warmth growing feeble at the horizon, Royce and a few friends made a fleeting attempt to brave the cool waters of the North Atlantic. They ran breathlessly back to their encampment and wrapped up in towels. Carlton motioned westward. “She’s back.”

Aithley was standing some twenty meters away, the setting sun glowing hauntingly through her dress. Royce was filled with a sense of dread. Her illuminated dress seemed to have been ignited by an unstable passion that threatened contagion.

“Are you not going to see what it’s about?” Carlton nudged him with his elbow.

Royce broke from his reverie. He dried himself slowly, all the while keeping his gaze fixed. Ultimately, he walked resolutely to her and stopped a meter away.

“Master Phillips.”

“Miss Grenier. In what context may I place your visit?”

“In Cambridge University, great advances are made which are not always made known to the public.” She smiled crookedly. “How fortunate we are that reports of your achievements have become known, at least in Exeter.”


“Yes.” Aithley added suddenly, “And if Cambridge is the venue of so many exciting discoveries, if it is so very pretty, what have you to do in plain old Exeter?!”

“What are you talking about?”

“You said that a man is judged by his management of his freedom.”

“I said, one is judged…”

“One? Then how do you explain the very different measure of a woman?”

“Which is?”

“Is a woman not to be judged by the humiliation she has been given, and her management of it?”

Exasperated, Royce exclaimed, “This beach has festered in ill-gotten shadows all day, and now even its only sun has chosen to shine upside down! We shall be lost in darkness if we’re not away soon. Will you not submit to practicality’s summons, and help me pack the car?”

“I loved that car!” she shouted bitterly, “I believed that it sang, and that it might have even sung to me!” She burst into tears and took flight.

Royce gave chase, calling after her. He overtook her easily, but just as he set upon her, she collapsed into the sand, sobbing. He knelt next to her. “Sorry, just … how are you going to return to Exeter? There is still no space in Zina’s car.” He turned her over and pulled her toward him. “Aithley…” She lay looking at the darkening sky, gasping back tears.

“History’s greatest victory has been the abolition of slavery,” she began, slowly and deliberately. “The obliteration of slavery.”

“Don’t do this,” he said. “Please don’t speak of this.”

“Devotion, beyond one’s own choosing, is commonly viewed with derision. Even the very concept now lies in tatters and in doubt.”

Royce felt himself slipping toward the precipice of tears. Yet, he could not look away from her. While she spoke of powerlessness, he felt himself losing reference to anything that was not the sound of her voice, the uneven rising and falling of her chest, the reddish sunlight in her hair, or the weariness of her skyward gaze.

“I fear,” she continued, “that if it should return, man might not even be able to recognize it.” She sat up slowly, looking vaguely over his shoulder out to sea. “I fear a new dark age.”

Tears began to run down his cheeks. “I fear it too,” he said.

“Let me go.”

He looked down to notice that he was holding a skirt gather tightly in his fist. He stretched his fingers open and let the crumpled fabric fall away. She stood up and walked away unsteadily into the light of the dying sun.

On the open highway, Royce could see Aithley looking out the rear window of the car ahead of his. Kenna sat next to her; Tuesday was nowhere to be seen. She must have arranged a different ride during the course of the day. Kenna tried to physically compel her sister to face forward, but was struck with such sudden and vicious blows, that she withdrew and left Aithley to her preferences. The car, perhaps not coincidentally, began to pick up speed and to slowly withdraw from sight.

Royce whispered her name. And then she was gone.

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