Sunday, May 19, 2013

(#Six: Katarina) Wuthering Nights by Summer Day: Inspired by Wuthering Heights

Chapter Six   
Katarina – Present Day
    After a relatively comfortable sleep and the beginnings of an unusual story told to me by Greta Gardner as I sat by the fire in the owner’s favourite chair, I was more than intrigued. I finally visited The Hall the next morning, cited the property, spoke briefly to the owner regarding matters of importance and took down the details required. I was then, surprisingly, invited to dinner at the pub the following week to finish up our business. As I drove out of the gravel driveway and slowly passed the pub, I saw that it was closed for the morning. I imagined the fireside warmly lit in the evening and the owner, who harboured his own secrets, sitting in my place…      
      That evening, Heath sat in his favourite armchair, reading the newspaper with more interest than he usually showed. He had the look of a burnt out rock star in his late twenties, still handsome and relatively young. He called his dog to heel and turned to sit at his chair near the fire. Greta was nowhere in sight; she’d gone home earlier to take care of her own children. A barman had taken her place.
     Heath was sipping ale and still reading the newspaper when he heard a gaggle of shrieking teenagers who instantly irritated him. It was legal to drink at eighteen but he wondered why - girls dressed like tramps in denim shorts and black tights chugging down alcohol was a negative result. He should have imposed a dress code, he thought gruffly. Society had really gone downhill since the nineties. Then he remembered some of the looks of that era were pretty bad, too. He must be getting old, he thought, although no one would have known it. His face was harder but retained the handsome, boyish features of his youth. Recently, since turning thirty-nine, he’d felt quite ancient. Yet many of his business associates assumed he was much younger than he really was. There was no point in an explanation, revealing the secret of his youth.
   He resigned to gruffly patting his dog and when he looked up the teenaged girls began joking around, making more noise than before. One of them, with long blonde hair and too much black mascara, waved at him. He turned away and stoked the fire. He wondered where their parents were and felt annoyed that his candle-lit lair was being infiltrated by the local riff raff. He looked back at his paper and shook his head.
    His own son, annoyingly public school educated and hopelessly addicted to clubbing and drinking and smart-mouthing him, would no doubt have tried to chat them up. Heath had mostly, throughout his bizarre and unexpected life, been interested in people who at least seemed the same age as he really was. Since school, he’d felt people who hadn’t lived as much of the journey as he had, had less to teach him. There was also the inevitable problem of his lack of ageing. People had started to notice. One of his old school acquaintances had asked him if he was on human growth hormones.
    Hard living had taken its toll but Heath would never look older than thirty. His specialist told him that, realistically, he shouldn’t expect to physically age more than twenty-six years (the age when his bones stopped growing and his venom fully matured). His sleeplessness kept him looking closer to thirty. The only thing that could finish him was a prolonged dose of sunlight or a stake through his heart, but agelessness, immortality was becoming a problem. His friends and associates looked a decade older. The longer he stayed in Hampstead, the more the whispers grew until they became openly hostile questions.
    Heath flicked past the entertainment section in the paper, highlighting yet another vapid celebrity. His gaze then rested on the financial columns of the newspaper. 
    Normally these articles would have bored him but since the most recent financial crisis, he’d found them a lot more interesting. The companies he’d bought and discarded prior to 2008 had made him very rich, even richer than the acquisition of land and residential property. He was so wealthy that he only kept the Hampstead house out of sentiment. Just the thought of being nostalgic at his age, when some were just beginning family life, made him question his own sanity. 
    The candle on the low table near him flickered and his dog barked, unexpectedly, causing Heath to look up from his paper; what he saw made him catch his breath for the first time in years.
    Kate’s face.     
    The hair was lighter and straighter, but the face and body were the same. Her eyes were identical. Dark brown and large with long black lashes, hiding secrets he had only learnt once: same height, same face, same voice. His breath was taken away with a low sigh and he knew if he didn’t speak to this woman… who was barely more than a girl, he would regret it forever. Still, it would take another drink to work up the courage.
    The girl, in her long cream scarf looked up and matched his gaze. In the minute it took for Heath to decide whether to speak with her, the band played that song Kate loved….
    ‘It’s my favourite,’ Kate had said, laughing as she swapped earphones and grabbed Heath’s hand in the clandestine meeting they’d had in the ten minutes before morning classes started. ‘You can’t imagine how much I love this song,’ she added, dragging him through the school hall making a sunny spectacle of herself…wearing way too much eyeliner to get through the day without detention.   
       The girl was the image of Kate, yet not Kate. She ordered a fizzy drink but a pint of ale was placed in front of her. She glanced around the room, noting Heath’s drink which had somehow been swapped with hers. The waiter was clearly not paying attention. Heath wondered if he’d finally lost his mind as the girl’s stare intensified. She looked back at the barman. Oblivious to being studied, Kate’s double wore a jaunty beret on her dark hair and had a colourful smile on her lips as her friends toasted her birthday.
    ‘Happy eighteenth Katarina!’ they yelled in unison.
     Heath remembered the date. He was reminded every year.
    In that moment, he hesitated to approach her and instead, glanced down at his paper. Moments later, as Heath read wearily beside the fire, a voice said, ‘I think we’ve been given the wrong drink.’
   Heath could not resist a question as he looked up at her shiny adolescent face and she replaced the cocktail glass in front of him with the ale.
   ‘You’re not… it can’t be… Kate Spencer’s daughter?’
    ‘Kate? Oh, you mean my mother Kate?’
    ‘I suppose so. I’m Katarina Hunt. This is my birthday, obviously,’ the girl said, glancing back at her friends who hovered near the bar.
    ‘I know,’ Heath said, surprised anyone would think he could forget such a thing.
    ‘My father and I live just across the Heath. I’ve seen your photograph in the newspaper. You must be…my uncle?’
     Her statement was so loaded Heath didn’t know where to begin.
    ‘Yes. You…you are my son’s cousin.’
    ‘My cousin… that’s right… big family secret, no one speaks about it. None of the family even speaks to each other, clearly. How is it possible you don’t look a day over thirty?’ 
    ‘It’s…the dark,’ Heath replied.
    She made a joke of it as only the young can. She was looming at the table now and had the audacity to pat his dog on its shaggy head. Heath’s pet beamed from all her attention, a fact that Heath found mildly irritating.
    ‘Do I… do I look like my mother?’ the teenage girl said as the fire flickered.
    And then it occurred to Heath, that instead of answering he could make her an offer she’d find difficult to refuse. After all, it was not too late and it was the girl’s right to meet her cousin and see her mother’s childhood home.
    ‘Why don’t you come back with me… to Hareton Hall? Her portrait remains on the wall. I’m headed there now. You can meet your cousin. There are also some photographs you might never have seen from…before. I’m sure your…father…won’t mind.’
    Katarina’s eyes flashed and Heath saw a great deal of Kate’s personality once again. It almost scared him, but not quite.
    ‘Heel,’ he said to his dog who’d started yapping excitedly (again) and was obviously beside himself at the smell of new company.
   ‘Behave yourself,’ Heath growled.   
   ‘Well, my friends…’
    Katarina glanced back to the bar as the tall girl with blonde hair wandered over and gave Heath a bemused smile. Katarina introduced them to each other.
   ‘Oh, so this is your uncle, Katty?’ the girl asked in disbelief, as if to say, yeah, right, he’s way too young and hot.
   ‘Kind of…we’ve only just met…’
    Katarina’s friend stifled a giggle as if she didn’t believe her but either way, she didn’t care. If Katty wanted to chat to this hot older man, that was her affair.
   ‘Well, the night is young and so are we but we have to be going, early game tomorrow and all that. Are you coming with us Kat?’
    At that moment Heath wore his most amiable expression.
    Katarina knew she might only get this one chance to discover all she could about the people she’d only seen once or twice in old photographs.
    The man in front of her was young and extremely handsome, yet so hard and cold. Something in her desired to visit his world, meet the cousin she’d never met as a child, see the house where her mother had been raised, learn the secret her family had kept for a generation.
   ‘No,’ Kate said. Then she looked at Heath and added, ‘I’m coming with you…’