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For as long as it remains in motion a falling plate remains complete. If one were to prolong the fall, the plate would gain a precious respite before the shattering.
In principle, should one somehow find some miraculous method of prolonging the fall indefinitely, the plate could deny its fate.
This afternoon Kee is making a broth from chicken bones and cabbage leaves; the pungent concoction is bubbling on top of the stove. She snaps now from her reverie and walks to the window to watch Johannes at play. Her son is hiding behind the apple tree and is doing it poorly. Half of his body juts visibly beyond the trunk. Not only that, he is also moving, convulsing with nerves and laughter.
Vincent roams the garden, pretending he cannot see the boy. He searches ineffectively, this way and that. He takes in the potato patch and the chicken coop despite the clear futility of both endeavours. Vincent takes in just about every conceivable location but the most obvious one, to the great amusement of Johannes.
Nearly two decades separate them, yet at this moment they are like two children playing together.
Vincent meanders past the tree, seemingly on his way to inspect the distant cowshed. This ruse proves one too many – Johannes breaks cover, screaming, to leap onto Vincent’s narrow back. The sight almost forces a smile onto Kee’s lips.
It is the first time she has come close to a smile in months. Shame courses through her. She is wearing black; a smile would be profoundly incongruous.
Kee steps away from the window and finds tasks for her restless fingers. The bread needs to be unwrapped and taken through to the dining table; there is butter in the pantry, also milk for drinking. Kee takes two bowls from her cupboard and places them on the table. She starts back to the kitchen before the thought occurs to her. Although she cannot recall seeing him eating in many months, she should at least offer a lunch to Vincent. She takes a third bowl from the cupboard and places it on the dining table.
When Kee returns to the kitchen, Vincent is standing in the hallway door, wet patches across his shoulders. Kee can hear it now, a burst of rain that has arrived rudely and without forewarning.
“Where is Johannes?” she asks instinctively.
“The rain started. I sent him to his room to practice his letters,” he replies tentatively.
Vincent is a voracious reader. He reads not just the Bible but also poetry and novels. He speaks and writes fluently in five languages. With Vincent’s help, Johannes can now draw the entire alphabet and recite lengthy passages of Scripture. “Was that right?” he continues. “Or would you like me to call him back down?”
Vincent seems nervous. He always seems nervous. He twitches in the doorway, moving from one pose to another, as if ease is forever elusive.
“No. It is good for him to practice. Thank you.”
Vincent’s face breaks into a bashful smile at her gratitude; the blood rushes to his cheeks.
He is a strange man. Everyone in the village says as much. He walks the streets barefooted, wearing dirty clothing, clutching his ragged Bible, and preaching – always preaching. He had been sent away to Borinage last year; Borinage had quickly returned him. Rumours were that he had proved too zealous in both belief and action even for the evangelicals. However, despite his eccentricities, Vincent is generosity itself. A man who sees time and possessions solely as means for charity.
“Will you eat with us this afternoon?” Kee asks.
In truth, she is indifferent to his answer. Like the others, she does not truly relish time around such an intense presence. Yet Vincent has done much for her and her son since Christoffel’s passing, so much that she cannot begrudge him their company. He stares back at her in silence, almost as if he is trying to ascertain the honesty of her offer. Kee feels herself blushing slightly, wondering if her mind is being read.
Vincent says nothing.
“Forgive me,” Kee continues correcting herself. “I meant to say, I want you to eat with us. You are skin and bones! Please, you are most welcome, stay, and eat a good, hot meal.”
“You are blushing,” Vincent declares, moving tentatively towards her.
Now it is Kee’s turn for silence. Hers emanates from her struggle against the ingratitude of her thoughts, against the shame she feels in acknowledging just how much effort it takes to truly like the person trying hardest to help her and Johannes in their time of greatest need.
“Can it be? Do you feel it too?” he asks.
The question is unexpected.
“Do I feel what?”
Vincent removes his straw hat. He is staring into her eyes, unblinking. He is searching ineffectively once again, only this time in earnest. Kee is at a loss to know what Vincent might possibly be experiencing.
“What?” she queries, unable to endure the protracted silence.
“There,” Vincent replies softly. “Love. Between us.”
Kee wonders if this is a poorly conceived joke, though Vincent rarely jokes. As always, he radiates sincerity, and real need.
Kee can blush no more.
“Vincent… No… No, I am deeply fond of you. Sincerely grateful for everything you have done for us…” She falters.
Vincent cocks his head slightly to one side.
“I am fond of you also!” he says. He begins to look around her kitchen with inexplicable purpose. “Can you see it?” he asks forlornly. “Fondness. Love. It is here, swirling and rippling, filling the room.”
“Vincent. Must I… need I say why that… that is wrong?”
“You are not long-widowed,” Vincent speaks in a voice cracked and wavering as he draws close. “You see only impropriety in a new love. Yet in love, you will – to your amazement – find God’s force. That which compels us to action: feeling! God’s love. It is the only true propriety.”
He continues, though the specifics of his turbulence washes over her like the spray of some miserable storm. Kee hears of Christian duty, of the importance of family, of Vincent’s new passion for painting and drawing, and of how his work is austere, joyless and devoid of love. He is frenzied, pressing until Kee loses patience and slaps him hard across his face.
“Cousin! Have you lost your mind?” Kee demands in a raised voice.
“If my mind is lost, it is lost in thoughts of you…And love is the sweetest lunacy. A desire has been sparked within. One that has rendered me insensible. I am wallowing in obsession, groping blindly through pink mist.”
“Adulterer! Drunk! Incestuous degenerate!” Kee’s accusations come with fresh blows, wild ones that are easily parried. “It is not God’s love you feel. It is a bestial perversion. A carrion desire for grieving relative. A lust to shame Gomorrah!”
Vincent looks confused. He steps back from Kee and her wrathful palms.
“Mother, why are you attacking Uncle Vincent?”
There is a note of fear in Johannes’ voice – or if not fear, then at least alarm. Vincent turns his head to the boy and does his best to reassure him.
“Please do not be overly concerned, Johannes. I simply raised the possibility of moving into this house, to live with you both.”
Vincent glances ruefully back at Kee. She only wants him gone.
“Your mother is cold to the notion,” he mutters in a voice soft and uncertain, “though perhaps, in time, she will thaw.”
Vincent lingers in her kitchen. He is a different man to her now. Kee understands why he was unable to join the priesthood; she sees behind the veil of innocence to where a sinful heart resides.
He does not yet understand this of himself. He returns her attention with a dumbstruck expression, as if the hostility that this most indecorous solicitation had been met with came as a genuine surprise.
Vincent retrieves his hat and makes his way out of the kitchen. He stops to rustle Johannes’ thick hair. For the first time, Kee feels uneasy about their contact. In this second, she knows there will be no more play between them, and no more tuition.
Vincent walks out of her house, moving quickly through her garden.
He cannot look back.
He takes the path outside, the one that leads away from Kee’s house. It will take him eventually through wheat fields and cypress groves, beneath liquid mountains, and under shimmering constellations.