Columbae 1937, A Love Story
Type : Short Story
Nancy Young: naive newlywed, married to Arpie
Arpie Young: naive newlywed, married to Nancy
Adonnis Young: brother of Arpie
Jason: wayward professor, hopelessly in love with Nancy
Nancy had been growing increasingly wary of her new husband, Arpie Young. Even though they were married, their relationship was closer to high-school sweethearts. The more she got to know him, the more she felt her husband was a stranger. They had stumbled too hurriedly into their marriage because their friends had been so keen about the match. She was the daughter of a Lieutenant General, and he was a celebrity RAF pilot.
Other than their good looks, outward charm, and being in the army, they had very little in common. Arpie thought of women in the military as pretty flowers whose purpose was to lighten the mood in their superiors' offices. He had grown up poor and was highly superstitious. He denied this fervently, but Nancy knew that he slept with a fortune-telling book under his pillow and that he frequented a palm reader. Nancy had a shrewd wit, was not superstitious, and was spoiled by her wealthy father.
They had met at an army dance. Arpie had brazenly stepped between Nancy and another potential suitor and asked her if he could have the pleasure of dancing with her. Their synergy was immediately apparent to all. They were the best-looking couple in the room. Most of the women in the room were inexperienced dancers. However, Nancy had had plenty of practice growing up since her father often hosted balls for officials. As they danced together, they got lost in each others' gaze. They were the last ones left on stage as the band finished the song. Everyone else had stepped off it to admire them. When the song ended, everyone shouted and cheered them on.
Arpie lived with his wealthy brother Adonnis and Adonnis' wife. Despite his humble upbringing, Adonis had successfully ascended the ranks of the railway industry after publishing a book that expounded the merits of cutting railway taxes. Adonis and Arpie were descendants of French protestant Huguenots who had fled France in the 1600s to escape Catholic persecution. After her marriage, Nancy moved in with her husband, brother, and brother's wife.
One day Mrs. Young, Adonnis' wife, overheard Nancy complaining about the food to her maid "This fish stinks! Did you just fry it in sunflower oil? There's no hint of wine or lemon juice."
Mrs. Young became paranoid that Nancy was trying to take control of her domain. "I will not have her impetuously ordering my servant around," she complained to her husband.
After that incident, Adonnis' wife had grown increasingly hostile toward Nancy. For her part, Nancy was desperately trying to convince Arpie to get a place of his own. But Arpie was a young man and had other things on his mind. Although he was married, he still felt and behaved like a bachelor, flirting with every girl he met. He told his wife that he would look for a house to rent but had made no attempt to find one.
To make matters worse for Nancy, the distinguished Sir. Jason, professor of French literature at Imperial Colledge, had fallen hopelessly in love with her. He had met her for the first time at her wedding with Arpie. It was love at first sight. For a time, he kept his feelings private. After all, she was married; and she was too young for him. Eventually, he could no longer restrain himself from writing to her. Jason's love for Nancy had rekindled in him the passion of his youth; it had awakened him from what felt like a lifetime of dullness and slumber. She was was his muse.
Unfortunately, however true his love may be, no one took Jason's infatuation with Nancy seriously apart from himself. It was an open secret that Jason was an old hand in the game of love and a shameless womanizer. He had spent ten years in Paris, and rumor had it that he had frequented every single brothel there. Nancy didn't dwell on his soliciting much at first. She indeed had no interest in this wayward professor. But all those around her could not help but suspect that she was egging him on. Why else would he persist in sending her so many love letters? Her husband Arpie, who had already been unfaithful to his wife after a mere three months of marriage, used these letters to justify his improper behavior to himself.
Jason's letters had caught the attention of the postman, who was a terrible gossip. Word of Nancy's daily letters spread like wildfire throughout their neighborhood, Columbae.
Nancy put yet another of her letters onto the large stack that she kept in the chest of draws. Rather than burn them, she kept them as evidence that she had not betrayed her husband. They were ridiculous. Yet, there was no denying that she found comfort in his flattery. It was, after all, the flattery of a master of the English language. Jason sometimes included poems to add to his heartful outpourings of love.
I am a tree in the dezert, you are thirst-quenching moisture,
Sweet Nancy, bringer of life,
I am lost at sea, you are the shore on the horizon,
Sweet Nancy, you are my everything.
That evening, Adonis and his wife's shouting match could be heard from Nacy and Arpie's chamber. "How long can we possibly keep on tolerating these absurd love letters! I do not understand why you stick up for this shameless man," she yelled at her husband. "He is a scoundrel! Flies are only attracted to cracked eggs. She's spoiling our good name --you think people haven't noticed that stupid postman walking up to our drive every single day? We're the laughing stock of the neighborhood."
Nancy could not contain her anger and made a beeline for the door; she would show her who the cracked egg was. Arpie held her back by the arm, "Don't you dare challenge your sister-in-law's authority in her own house!" he whispered threateningly. Nancy broke free of his grip and lunged for the door handle. Completely overcome by rage, she sprinted out of her chamber and burst into Adonnis' room, slamming the double doors open.
"You!" yelled Nancy pointing her index finger at Adonnis' wife. "How dare you slander me with such a foul tung! I don't have anything to do with that professor. I don't want anything to do with you or your servants."
Arpie appeared beside her and grabbed her by the arm again, scolding her. "The guts you have, breaking into my brother's room, how can you be so shameless? You must apologize at once." Nancy was shocked and hurt that her husband had picked the other side.
Arpie's statement stoked his brother's wife's hot rage, and before she could think twice, she ruthlessly blurted out, "How dare you act like the master of this house, you whore!" She had gone a step too far. Adonis, who had thus far been relatively composed, was horrified. He asserted his authority as master of the house by slapping his wife hard across the face. After a second of pure shock, her legs gave way, and she started crying profusely in a heap of shame on the ground. It wasn't the physical pain of the slap that hurt. In their twelve years of marriage, she had never been struck by her husband. Her heart felt like it was being squeezed through a small tube. She had supported him through thick and thin, she had borne him two children, she was a faithful and devoted wife, and now Adonis was siding with his brother's poor mannered wench! He had utterly defaced her.
At this inopportune time, the Youngs' doorbell sounded five times. Jason had not received so much as a single word of acknowledgment from Nancy. She refused to answer any of his letters, not even to reject him, for this would mean admitting to him that she had read them. He had started to worry that she was not even receiving them, so he had decided to pay her a visit. He knew very well that he couldn't just show up to the Youngs' doorstep uninvited, so he had hatched an ingenious plan to draw her out.
In their stupor, the quadruple had entirely forgotten about the existence of the outside world. Each was stunned to find themselves in such a compromising situation. The doorbell sounded again, forcing the actors out of their frenzied context. Nancy's indignation subsided, Adonnis' wife stopped crying. Leaving his wife on the ground, Adonnis composed himself and strode out of the room without a word to answer the door. The bell rang twice more as he went down the stairs; clearly, something was the matter.
He was greeted by a panic-stricken man at the door. "Fire! Fire! There's a fire! Quick, grab a bucket of water and follow the smoke! There's a fire on Oxford street!" the man said before running to the neighboring house's doorbell.
Jason watched from the shadow of the opposite alleyway as, one by one, the inhabitants of number 37 Oxford street emerged out of their house carrying buckets of water. He could not help but notice that the Youngs looked somewhat dejected, though perhaps this was to be expected given that they thought their neighborhood was on fire.
Dear friends at Columbae. I hope that I have not slandered anyone in this piece of fiction. For the record Tuesday I think you would make an excellent postman. Thank you everyone so much for your boundless kindness and hospitality. I hope this little piece was as entertaining for you to read as it was for me to write.