Charles (Story by R.C. Peris)

It really was too far. But there it was. We are on a train north. To the moors. The Bronte moors. I had Wuthering Heights in my hand. There was bombing in London. Mum said we were safer north. Dad was fighting in the war. He was somewhere in East Asia. I would look at the globe in his office and trace all the countries with my fingertip. I imagined my finger squashing him through jungle foliage.

I am fifteen and my sister, Elizabeth, is nine. We have never been too far north of London before. We usually went south to Dover. Or even further, Paris. We bought sweets and dresses in Paris. Mum says it’s crawling with Nazis now. Strange to think of hard jackboots propped up on chairs in cafes where they served omelets and crepes.

We arrived as daylight waned. A man in a tweed coat held a sign. LANCASTER CHILDREN. He had a kind face. Pale eyes lit by a distant fire. Maybe his soul was on fire. A lambent glow. I learned ‘lambent’ from reading D.H. Lawrence. Secretly. Lady Chatterley’s Lover was not on Mum’s approved reading list.

The man took us to his home. The house was sprawling. Built with gray stones. Ivy clung to the south wall. He explained his wife was ill. They had no children. The man said his name was Charles. He was old, I thought. Probably thirty-five or even more. He spent a great deal of time roaming his property. At the end of the month, he spent two days collecting rent from tenants. When he wasn’t outside he was in his library reading. My sister played in the garden most days and I sequestered books from the library and sat in the Great Room.

“You can sit with me if you like. There’s a fire,” he said. And so I began to spend hours with Charles. We would sit in companionable silence reading. One day he asked if he could teach me chess and then we began to spend hours playing chess. I learned easily. Charles was a good teacher. I was becoming very fond of him. He was gentle and quick to smile.

One night his wife appeared for dinner. She was blonde and ghostly. I stared at her thin lips. I felt a rising feeling inside me. I knew what it was from reading so many adult books. I was jealous. I had a mad urge to kiss Charles. My feelings grew. From day to day. Until I realized I was in love. So many exciting and frustrating feelings erupted in me.

And then the war ended and Mum called us back home. I cried miserably.

“I love you,” I told Charles.

“You’re a child,” he said. But there was that burn in his eyes. I knew that fire was for me now. Deep in his soul. I knew that one day I would return. A woman. Childhood crush would evaporate and I would be greeted as a woman. Oh, Charles. You and your lambent glow.

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