Sunday 8 September 2013

I, Walter by Mike Hartner

Chapter 1

"I, Walter Crofter, being of sound mind. . . ." Bah, this is garbage! I tossed my quill on the parchment sitting in front of me. People may question my sanity, but they should hear the whole story before judging me. I’m sitting here, now, at the age of 67, trying to write this down and figure out how to tell everything. I don’t know if I'll ever get it right, though. Too many secrets to go around. However, this is my last chance to offer the truth before I die. The doctors say it's malaria, yet I'll be fine. Perhaps. But if the malaria doesn't kill me, my guilt indeed will. Maybe if people know the facts surrounding my life, everyone will have a better understanding.

I dipped the tip in the inkwell again, and wrote:

I was born September 2, 1588, and named Walter. I didn’t belong in this Crofter family, who were storekeepers in London and not farmers as our surname might indicate to those who study this sort of thing. My parents were courteous and even obsequious to our patrons. Yet they received little or no respect. The ladies came to us to buy their groceries or the fabric for their dresses, but as seemly as they comported themselves, and some even called my father 'friend,' it was not out of regard for him. I was forced to run. Well, "forced" might put too harsh a point on it, like that of a sword, but others can judge for themselves.

By the time I reached the age of 12, I'd found another family that was more "me". They weren’t rich, but they were comfortable. The parents had several children, including a girl my age who was named Anna. Within two years, we had come to know each other quite well, and were getting to know each other even better. Her father caught us getting too close to knowing each other better yet, and showed up at my parents' house with a musket in his hand, telling them if I ever came near his daughter again, he'd use it on me--and then on them.

I paused to dip the pen and wipe my brow. Even though I was wearing a light cotton shirt, it was bloody hot in early August in Cadaques. My wife, Maria, entered the room and looked at my perspiring face and what I had just written. Between fits of laughter, she smiled at me with wide lips and said, "You can't possibly write this. You're not the only boy a doting father ever had to chase away. Nobody cares about this sort of thing."

"It will at least give a pulse to this writing," I replied. "It's too boring to say I left because I was mismatched with my own family, so much so that I was positive someone had switched me at birth. Or that I thought I was ready for more in life than what I could find at home. Nobody would read that, not even me."

"I agree, so tell the story that really means something. All of it." She sighed softly and placed the parchment she had been reading on the desk in front of me and kissed my cheek. The gleam in her eyes shed 20 years off her age and reminded me of a much gentler time. God, how much I love her.

I said, "Before I met you, I spent my life like a square peg trying to fit in a round hole. I’m just trying to make my story more interesting."

"I’ve heard the accounts of your life before you met me. Or I should say found me. It was anything but boring. So, if you insist on including in the story lines like those you just wrote, make sure they're the only ones. If you don't, I'll consider adding my own material." She winked. "You know I’ve had good sources."

She turned and walked away, laughing loudly as I called after her, "Yes, dear."
I dipped the quill and put it to parchment again.

In my earliest days, I remember my father, Geoff, being a bit forceful with other people. I also recall my brother Gerald, nearly five years my senior, and myself being happy. Or at least as contented as two boys could be who were growing up in the late 1500s in England, and working every day since their seventh birthdays. It was a time when boys were earning coin as soon as they could lift or carry things. The money could never be for themselves, however, but for the parents to help pay the bills.

Father lived as a crofter should. He was an upright man and sold vegetables off a cart like his grandfather did, and he also dabbled in selling fine fabric for the ladies of status.

One afternoon, when I was eight years old, my brother came home and got into a heated debate with my father about something. When I ran to see what was the matter, they hushed around me, so I never got the full gist of the argument. But whatever it was about, it was serious, and the bickering continued behind my back for five straight days. When I awoke on the morning of the sixth day, Gerald was no longer at home. And he never came back.

Soon afterwards, my father lost enthusiasm for his business and became generally passive. I assumed this was because of Gerald's leaving, and only on occasion would I see flashes of my dad's former self.

At the start of my tenth year, our family moved closer to London. We rented the bottom floor of a three-story building in which several families lived in the upper floors. My father said we relocated because he needed to be closer to more business opportunities. But my mom didn't believe he'd made the right decision, since he was now selling food out of a cart and not inside a storefront. One night, she greeted him at the door when he came home. She was wearing a frown and a dress that had seen better days.

"Did you bring in any decent money?" she asked him before he had time to take off his coat.
"I told you, it will take some time. It's not easy to make good money these days."
"Especially when you let the ladies walk all over you."
"I know, I know. But what am I to do when they aren't running up to me to buy what I'm selling?"
"You at least bring home some food for us?" My father had carried in a bag under his arm.
"It's not much, a few carrots and some celery." He handed her the bag.
"What about meat?"
"We're not ready for meat yet."
"That’s true enough," my mother said. "But you should at least try to feed your family. Walter's growing, and so are our other children."
"Leave me be, woman. I'm doing the best I can for now." He sat in his chair, leaned his head against the wall, and fell asleep.

I Walter

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Genre – Historical Fiction/ Romance

Rating – PG

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