July 8, 2009

An Unremarkable Man

It was early in July, and the winds stopped coming from inland, and were now blowing in from the sea. The rocky crags bordering the Oceanside protected the humble home where Octavos Blount lived. He lived in a development that housed the workers who catered to the rich of the coast. His days were spent deep in a windowless room in the bowels of the resort hotel, this Oceanside, laundering the garments of the capitalist and the landed rich who made their holiday there.
Octavos was not unhappy there. He was able to make acquaintances with the workers in similar situations. The servants were a polyglot group, and he was able to learn bits and pieces of many languages of the world. Everyone was able to communicate in a pidgin language with these bits and pieces. Things went along swimmingly.
For three years, Octavos had lived in this situation. The summer months were the worst. The heat from the environment mingled with the heat from the laundry machines and the atmosphere in Octavos’s little cavern was an intense blinding heat. In the early afternoons, he took his lunch for three hours because the heat would be unbearable. He would go to the veranda in the back of the hotel, where the workers of the Oceanside would take their tea. He could mingle with the maids and cooks, and he made a habit of having someone read a paper to him so he could know the news from his native country.
At three o’clock, he would return to his little cavern. Before he would go back though, he would take a salt tablet to replenish his sodium.
After work, he made a habit of going for long walks in the town around the coast. He knew people all over the settlement, and sometimes he would call on these people if there were lights in their windows. Over time, he had become accepted in the circles of the tradesmen and their families. Octavos was still a young man, and his principal motivation for his ambulation was to find a wife. His little cottage was dark and lonely, and he needed the light and warmth that a wife provides. However, his means were meager, and the prospects were none to bright for Octavos. For the time being, Octavos knew that taking a wife was a whimsical idea, but he still maintained his habit of taking his walks.
It was this warm July, in the third year of Octavos’s employ at the Oceanside that things took a turn. On returning home from work, a Tuesday, he found a letter placed on his kitchen table. This troubled him, as he had never learned to read.
He picked the letter up and turned it over in his hands. The paper was a silky sheen, the fibers were from a luxurious plant, and it had been made with care, and was obviously very expensive. The seal was of red wax, and the signet on it was indecipherable. He could recognize is name on the outside, along with the word “Oceanside.” The other markings were of no use to him.
It made him remember in his youth, when his father had to sign documents. Things would come out to their farm by post sometimes, and his father would pour over them, placing his spectacles over his eyes as the intently studied the markings on the page. His father had been, at one point, an important member of some organization intent on revolution. His father only appeared in Octavos’s early memories, and his mother rarely spoke of him, or his deeds. In the farmhouse however, Octavos remembered such a piece of paper he was told never to touch. It was the same kind of paper he was now flipping over in his own hands.
He decided to call on Stephen Dallius. Stephen was the youngest son of the village cooper. The young man had been attending the seminary school in the province capitol and was taking his summer Holliday with his father. Dallius was a largely built young man who was highly sensitive to criticism as he spoke with a pronounced lisp. The lisp was the result of his being born with a cleft palate, and the corrective surgery the doctors performed was widely considered successful, but this still affected Stephen’s elocution.
Octavos walked the narrow cobbled streets of the village towards the outskirts of town. The Dallius family lived in the poorer district of town, on the road leading to the capitol. The further you walked along this road, the more and more rural it became until you were surrounded by trees on all sides. Octavos was reluctant to call on them at this late hour, but he felt inclined, as he was largely curious pertaining to the contents of the letter he had received. The road in the poorer district was in stark contrast to the road through the town proper. There was a bridge over a little creek that defined the boundary between the two areas. Where the road in the town was cobbled with stones and narrow, the road in the poor district was still unpaved. In rainy times, the road would become impossible to pass except for the most determined travelers. The intelligent walker would stay on the wooden planking that bordered the road on one side, but the planking was only wide enough for one person. If two people were to meet traveling in opposite directions, one would have to step down from the planking into the road.
This was July, and Octavos was consciously thankful that the rainy times had gone away with the coming of the summer. It was still early evening, and Octavos noticed that the roads were uncommonly crowded. It was only then that he remembered that the next day was a Holliday, and every one was out shopping preparing for the feasts that would be given the next day. Everywhere he turned, he could see women with loaded bags from the market. Many storefronts were displaying their goods and the bells on the shop doors provided music for the scene. Octavos knew he had to hurry, as the Dallius family lived far off. He was constantly afraid of the highwaymen that were known to prowl in the district, and he wanted no part of their antics.
He walked with a quickening pace as he crossed the bridge, and the crowed street began to thin out. Octavos kept glancing furtively over his shoulder knowing that evil lurks all around him. Soon though, he arrived at the barrel shop owned by the Dallius family. The shop was already closed, and the door had been barred. Octavos walked around back, to where the family made its habitation. The lamps were on, as Octavos was able to see shining in through the windows. The windows were dusty, as if they had not been washed in a long time. That might have been true, but the street was not far away, and people traveling in from the capitol for the resort town and people leaving kicked up a lot of dust. Octavos was made aware of this on previous callings, as Mrs. Dallius constantly complained about the ever-present nature of the road dust. She claimed to clean the entire house from top to bottom at least twice a week. This had little of the desired effect, as even though the lamps burned bright, the grimy windows obscured the view to inside the house.
Knocking on the door, Octavos’s agitation grew. He was out of breath from the quick walk over, but his heart was not pounding because of his lack of physical health, he was shaking in anticipation of knowing what secrets the paper held. This letter was, in fact, the first one that he had received since he became an employee of the Oceanside. He could hear commotion on the inside as someone struggled toward the door. The port soon opened, and Octavos’s eyes beheld the large, jolly visage of the proprietor of the cooper shop himself, Mr. Abraham Dallius. Abraham’s eyes lit up at the sight of Octavos, who had in the course of time become a good friend of the family. Abraham was dressed in his shirtsleeves, and gave Octavos a big hug. His arms were the strong arms of a man who has toiled all his life in manual labor. The affable greeting bestowed upon Octavos almost crushed him, as he was a slight man of small build.
Abraham’s body took up almost the entire doorway, and his features were hard to make out, as they were backlit from the light in the foyer. Little light made its way in from the streetlamps, as the door to the Dallius’s dwellings was off the main street in a small alleyway. Abraham grabbed Octavos’s shoulders, and the calluses could be felt through the thin material of Octavos’s jacket.
“Come on in, my friend. What brings you out our way this fine evening? The wind is blowing, and the coming Holliday can be felt in the air. Everyone is happy, and you make us the more so by bestowing your presence on us.” Abraham fancied himself an orator, and his speeches were often full of superfluous language. “We have just started dinner, but it would be no problem to offer up a plate to our fine guest. Mary, make room at the table for our friend Octavos.” His large booming voice filled every corner of the small house, when Octavos first met him, he was taken aback by some of the rough manners Abraham possessed, but once he became more intimate with him, he was able to dismiss such things as a matter of course as being part of his character.
Octavos then followed Abraham into the cramped dining area of the Dallius home. He was surprised to see not only Mrs. Mary Dallius, and their young son Stephen, but also the older son, James, and his new wife Mrs. Maria Dallius, nĂ© Warcraft. They had been married the previous spring in a simple ceremony in the village’s Catholic church. She was a beautiful young redhead James had become acquainted with while he was working as a page in the courts while apprenticing as an Advocate. She had a quite substantial dowry coming into the wedding, and with this, the young family set itself up nicely. This was the first time Octavos had seen either of them since the wedding, and he was quite happy. Maria was already noticeably large with child.
After the formal greetings were over, Octavos settled down into the place the Dallius’s had set for him. There was quite a large spread. The centerpiece was a respectful gathering of local wildflowers, nothing to ostentatious. Surrounding the centerpiece was an assortment of dishes popular to the region. This was the traditional feast given on the eve of the Holliday, and Octavos felt honored to be in such good company for the feast. The main ingredient for the dishes was the national staple, the potato. There was potato soup, potato bread, potato pancakes, even a potato stew, with bits of chicken. The main dish was a roast pheasant, which is found in abundance in the woods outside the village. The local variety of pheasant is a particularly delectable variety. They roast well, and don’t have too much fat. The pheasant had been stuffed with a mixture of carrots and potatoes, with a bit of butter and bread to give it some moisture. The drippings had been turned into a fantastic sauce that was to be used to flavor some of the potato dishes. In a bowl in the centerpiece, Octavos eyed several oranges, and a few figs. Octavos considered this a fantastic extravagance, but in his heart, he hoped that he could have one of the oranges for dessert. He observed all this from the corner of his eye, as his head had been bowed in respect towards the Dallius’s observance of blessing the food before they partook of a meal.
When the grace was over, they all began to chatter away with the small talk that accompanies such meals. There was talk about the fine quality of the food, several people grumbled about the stresses of their own respective occupations, and there was much excitement over the upcoming birth of Maria’s child. Several times, Abraham spoke loudly about the new child becoming the savior of the world. His grandiloquence in the matter made him the center of attention, as he was often used to being. A fine port was brought out and they all made toasts. There were toasts to the country, but more were for the coming baby. Octavos made a fine show of drinking the port, because at that time he did not believe in taking of alcoholic libations. He made capitulation of that belief for this visit, as it was a time of joviality and fellowship that was not always Octavos’s custom.
Finally, as the meal was drawing to a close, Octavos was able to produce his letter. There was much admiration over the fine quality of the paper. There was a unanimous agreement that the paper was of linen stock, and it had to have been expensive. James marveled at length over the seal, noting that it was quite unnecessary to use a seal anymore, as self-sealing envelopes were becoming widely common in the province. He remarked that it was simply archaic, but Octavos defended the seal as being a common practice in his homeland.
The letter was finally passed on to Stephen, who opened the letter after receiving permission from Octavos. The seal was broken, and Stephen took a deep breath, as several large bills fell from the interior of the letter. It was placed on the table, and the entire party fell mesmerized at the ornate handwriting. The letter was a short one, but the large flowing script took up most of the page. It was seen that the entire enterprise, the letter, the bills, and the calligraphy was well wrought, and contained much more than the simple note. The wording of the letter was simple, and it was something that Octavos thought he would not have to endure until much longer in the future.

My dear,
I am dying.
Please come home.

There was a large commotion in the household, as the news hit the assembled company. Both of the women released uncontrollable shrieks, and Mary soon swooned. Octavos regretted that this was the news that they would remember their Holliday by, being by far the most memorable event of the evening. Earlier Abraham had spoke of an unruly customer who had demanded a refund on some work that the customer deemed sub par, and this created a black cloud that followed Abraham home from work. When Octavos entered, he had brightened up the atmosphere to a large degree, as in the Dallius house, Abraham’s moods were the bellwether of all the other dispositions. He didn’t grow surly often, but if he did, it became an uncomfortable situation.
Octavos silently arose, and walked to the door. The others raised their voices, pleading him to stay around, hoping to comfort him. He returned to the table, to the pleasure of the others, only to bend down and take up in his hands the paper that had been left behind, along with the money sent, presumably to finance the trip home that he would need to take to see his mother. Octavos sullenly walked to the door, and opened it. With this new news, he was inconsolable. The world for him had stopped spinning on its axis, and the voices fell away from him. He could not hear their cries and pleadings. All his friends’ efforts were in vain.
Replacing the reality surround him were the memories he had of his mother. After his father disappeared, she was the only one he had. He was an only child, and for the longest time, they associated with each other exclusively. They had struggled on the farm for a while, until in Octavos’s tenth year, she inherited some property in the Capitol. This provided a sufficient income for the two to live, although meagerly. Octavos lived in the city for six years before a friend of the family set him up with his current occupation. He was given the humble cottage and the job at the Overlook based on, he assumed, former associates of his father. Young Octavos lacked in education. He had attended school, but never did well. He had been prepared to become a simple peasant like so many that he knew when living out on the farm. He was not disappointed. He had no grand ambitions. He would have been as happy as a farmer, as he was happy in his present situation.
When he walked out of the Dallius’s house, he had the vacant eyed look of a classical marble bust. His pace towards the main road was not quick. The walk home was begun in an entirely different state of mind than the walk over originated with. He was not nervous, nor excited. He was in a state of shock that he had never experienced. He had lost his father too young to remember the feelings that came along with such things.
In his youth, the lost father was just another happening of growing up. He wondered sometimes about the circumstances surrounding his father, but every time he tried to bring up the subject, his mother blanched. He knew enough to leave the topic alone. If any good were to come of this current situation, he hoped that he might at least learn of the secrets of his father, the subjects that were never allowed to arise. Perhaps his mother, on her deathbed, might be forthcoming about his father. He hoped that it might help explain who he is becoming as a man.
Octavos was nearing the bridge separating the old town with the poorer district. He was nearing the turn he would have to take and from there, it would be smooth sailing on calm seas. The moon shone overhead, but the stars were enshrouded in mist. He walked on home, mindful of the dimming lamps. The streets were deserted, and quite. The shop bells that had accompanied his walk to the Dallius house had been quite for hours. The city was resting itself in preparation for the Holliday celebrations in the coming hours. Holliday was a festive time, but Octavos could not see the bunting and the national flags the city had erected in honor of the glorious nation. He was blind to all happiness in the world.
Suddenly, Octavos was knocked free from his morbid reverie by a sharp jolt on his back. A large man had struck him on his right shoulder blade. This surprised him, and he lost his balance and stumbled forward. He supported himself on the nearest building and maintained his balance, but the man had narrowed the gap between them, and was pressing closer to Octavos. He froze, the man was twice his size, and had poor dental hygiene. He leaned up close to Octavos, who could feel the pressure the man exerted on his body. He felt how small and inconsequential he was in this world. The man held a glimmering steel blade to Octavos’s throat. Octavos’s body relaxed, and his mother’s letter fell to the ground.