the backyard cottage

My Home

By Diomedes | Robert O'Reilly | 7 Aug 2022



Jane and Mary. pexels-gary-barnes

At the top of the stairs we parted ways.  I skipped any reading that night.  I just lay in bed, eyes closed, to review the events of the day.  It seemed like my real life was becoming just as much enriched and enhanced as my intellectual one.  I wondered if there was a correlation between the two.  Upon this complex question I fell asleep.

Once again I had the wildest sleep, parts of it deep, parts full of dreams which I could remember in every detail.  My nights now seemed equal to my daytime in activity, a second life.  The last dream I had just before I woke up was so rich I had to lay there in bed and think about it.  I thought I had resolved two fundamental questions of our universe and our existence, viz, why the universe is so far unresponsive to our signals looking for other intelligent life, given the vast amount of Earth-like planets out there, and next, our necessary and radical transformation as intelligent beings in the near future.

My dream told me we are going to assimilate in the next decade with our computer creations and shed all corporeal trappings and limitations, our meat sacks.  We’ll advance so fast in knowledge and power that this universe will become a puny thing as we enter into a playing field of an infinity of universes and possibilities, with god-like powers to create them, should we even deign to tinker or toy with that matter.

The reason why we haven’t been contacted by other beings in this multitude of suns and planets is that when any creature advances in intelligence to the possibility of space travel, it progresses in short order to a state beyond the need or necessity of space travel, well before the time it would take to complete a space journey to another solar system.  So it never happens.  In other words, before we get to the next solar system by spacecraft, we’ll have developed the technology to be bodiless, all knowing and all powerful in influence over this universe and entered into another whole realm, a different ballgame we can’t yet imagine.

Imagine a trillion terabyte chip the size of a pinhead and in the next second the size of a photon, traveling through space, through dimensions, wherever it wills, in a thousand directions at once at a trillion times the speed of light, comprehending everything it passes in nanoseconds.  That’s us in a few years.

All this thinking was making me thirsty for a glass of juice, so I got up, showered, combed my hair, dressed and went downstairs.  These were the formalities of family life, and I wasn’t going to break any of the rules, as I cherished the thought of being in a family again.

Before I even reached the door I could smell the coffee.  Mary and Jane were at the counter obviously busy preparing a meal for everyone.  I could smell the eggs and bacon frying.  Scout was at the same seat at the table as before, not noticing me, nibbling at a toasted bagel with jam, holding it in both hands, quite content, like a squirrel eating a nut.

As soon as they noticed my presence there was a rush towards me.  Mary was first and taking my hands she spoke excitedly:  “Roland, you won’t believe this.  She’s been talking full sentences since we woke up.”

Jane broke in, “Ya she’s quite the little magpie now, but it’s wonderful.  What did you do to her?  She keeps telling us that you went into her head and showed her how to kill all the bad things in some forest and that now she can do it for herself.”

Scout was tugging at my arm.  “I am better now, I am.  My head got better while I was sleeping.”  I picked her up and hugged her.

“I’m so happy for you Scout.  I knew you could do it.”  I put her back in her seat.

“I hope you don’t mind us making this breakfast.”  Mary said.

“No, not at all.  Let’s sit down and eat.”

I sat beside Scout.  Jane and Mary dished up four plates and joined us.  For the first few minutes we all dug in.  But then Mary burst out, unable to contain herself: “She’s been speaking such beautiful, long sentences with perfect grammar.  Come on Scout, talk to Roland, show him how well you can speak.”

I don’t know if she just didn’t like being prodded, or maybe being interrupted from the scrambled eggs which she busy eating, but she set down her fork, looked me directly in the face and said in a clear young girl’s voice: “My mother is a lesbian.”

I’m sure she said this for some sort of shock effect, and it worked.  Mary was agape.  Jane started laughing but trying to hold it in, with one hand over her full mouth.  I was at a loss for a reply and could only come up with a bemused: “that’s strange.”

Then Scout let out boldly: “And Jane’s one too.”

Now I recalled a Shakespearean phrase and replied slowly as if in awe:  “Passing strange.”

With that, the two women broke out into a fit of laughter.  Even Scout giggled, seeing us so happy, smug at her display of wit.

“You see how she can speak her mind.” Jane said, collecting herself.  “I think she’s going to be a fine conversationalist someday.”

We resumed eating, all of us in the best of moods.  Mary began chatting away about how comfortable the bed was, how soft the sheets, then moving on to the bathroom, how beautiful it was, how she almost felt like a diva in the silk bathrobe she was wearing until she caught herself all of a sudden:  “Oh Roland, I hope I’m not boring you.  I’m sorry.”

“No, not at all.  It’s a joy for me to have company and to hear table talk in a kitchen which has been silent for so long.”

Scout was all this time listening to us and at the same time devouring her meal, almost greedily, in stark contrast to the breakfast of the morning before.

When breakfast was over Mary and Jane began automatically tidying up again, just like the night before.  They asked me if they could do their beach laundry here before they headed home, so I showed them to the laundry room in the basement.  They also wanted to set the bedroom straight before they left so I asked if I might show Scout the library while they were busy.

I took her hand and in we went.  The library was impressive in the morning as it caught the early rays of the sun through colored panels of glass above four Gothic windows draped below with green velour curtains.  The room was dim and these small openings cast prismatic patterns on the bookshelves and central table which changed as the earth turned.   I walked her slowly around the perimeter of the room, pointing out all the books on the shelves, arranged by their subjects and the names of the people who wrote them.  She asked to see one.  We happened to be standing in the natural history section and I took down a large volume of “American Ornithology” by Alexander Wilson.  I opened the book to a random page.  It was a beautifully colored print of a Whippoorwill.

“It says here that this bird likes to eat bugs at night time.  If you read this book, you would know about all the birds in the sky, what they look like and also their habits and the songs they sing.”

I flipped the pages to a few more prints.  Her eyes were wide with amazement.  She touched a picture.  “It looks so real” she said.

“Do you know how to read?”  I asked.

“I know the letters” she replied.

“Well let’s try” I said, sitting her on my lap at the table.  I leaned over her to read a description, took her finger in my hand and pointed it to each word in the sentence as I read it.  Then I moved it back to one of the words and asked her, “what was that word?”  She spoke the answer with ease.  In fact, like me, she was memorizing every line, every word.  I realized that she would be reading by herself in no time.

But I also vaguely sensed her presence in my head as if she was reading through my own eyes and understanding everything.  I also noticed I must be doing the same, sensing her slight hesitations and questions.  With our heads this close together we were in a state of telepathy.  I turned the page and covering the title, without uttering a sound I asked her in my mind the name of this bird which I knew.

 “A finch” she replied correctly.

With this bond between us the possibilities of teaching her whole fields of knowledge within weeks or months, dawned on me in a flash and I determined I had to do everything in my power to make this happen.  I could teach her languages, French, Italian, Latin and Greek, history, poetry, mathematics and science, as much as I knew, which was no small amount, and much more.  While I was having this epiphany, I looked at her head, bobbing up and down, saying ‘yes, yes, yes’.  She was reading my thoughts.

I set her down.  “Let’s make this happen, Scout.  Come and help me.”

We raced upstairs and found Jane and Mary making the bed.

“Mommy, Roland showed me a book about birds and is teaching me to read.”

“Why that’s wonderful Scout.  I’m sure you’ll learn to read at school also.”

“Much sooner if you let me help.”  I added.

“I’d like to give you the tour I promised last night.  You’re in no rush are you?” I asked.

“No rush to get back to our dungeon.”  Jane said sarcastically.

“Is it that bad?  What’s the matter with it?”

“We’re two and a half months behind rent.  So the hot water has been cut off for the last two weeks.  That’s why we asked if we could do our laundry here.  Our landlord would cut off all the water.  But that’s illegal.  He’s a brute and whenever we go home, he confronts and threatens us.  We live in a crime zone.  It’s drug infested.  It’s bug infested.  We’re broke.  Mary can’t find work.  I can only get part-time.  We’re about to be evicted and homeless.  It’s a miracle the car hasn’t broken down as that’s the only thing still working.”

Jane was venting, almost hyperventilating.  She looked dismal after this revelation.  They both did.  It made them look five years older, sad and beaten.  The wrinkles around their eyes were more pronounced and the sight struck me.

“That’s terrible” I said.  “Let me think about this awhile.  I can help you out of this fix.  You’re not going back there tonight.  You can stay here one more day.  It’s not safe.  I can’t imagine Scout or either of you in danger there.  Maybe we can go apartment hunting tomorrow.  Don’t worry; it’s all going to change.  This is distressing but let’s put it aside for now and I’ll show you around.  Sunday starts the new week and we’ll make it the beginning of a whole new life for you.”

I was trying to cheer them up.  Their sadness affected me as much as them.  But I could easily help.  Money is the grease that lubricates changes.  I could move them into any new, furnished apartment I chose by Monday evening and pay the rent for a year, hire a moving company to do all the work.  It would only mean a few phone calls and the cost would be negligible.  But to them it would be a game changer, a life saver.  I’d sometimes thought of all the unspent money in my bank accounts and how much good it could do for poor people, raising hundreds of them from bitter distress, at least for a while.  But I didn’t know them and did nothing.

Now I had two cases of poverty before me and a little girl whom I wanted to teach all that I could, I suppose the first parental stirrings I’d ever felt.  And it felt good, as now I had a purpose in life which I didn’t have two days earlier.

I also felt a qualm of guilt.  I almost blushed as I realized with crystal clarity the huge difference in our daily lives.  I never gave  a moments thought to money.  I bought whatever I saw and liked in any store.  They must have counted and worried over every penny in their purses whenever they made the smallest purchase, or sadly put back items in the grocery store they wanted but couldn’t afford.  They must have dwelled on bills and income all day long, tallying up the numbers in their heads, nervously discussing at night how to make ends meet, which bill to pay, which to delay, and the decision, like the grey future before them, only depressing and getting worse.

Hand in hand, Mary and Jane, Scout and I, began to stroll through the second floor of my home.  There were two more guest bedrooms towards the left, front side of the house with another bathroom between them.  The front one was the bedroom in which I grew up, being a circular room, matching the tower library on the other side.  Its walls were painted light blue, with large stencils of knights and ladies on horses chasing deer, a middle age motif from the ‘Hours’ of Marguerite d’Orleans.  My father had it painted for me, and I could see by Scout’s wide eyes that she was taken by it immensely.  But I held back saying anything.  I was still revolving the extremely complex scenario of other people staying here, shattering my perfect, pure solitude.  I was in an epic battle of conflicting emotions as we moved on in silence.

I showed them my master bedroom and its bathroom even larger than theirs, then the tower library, then circling back to a narrow staircase to a floor above, the servant’s quarters, four small rooms and a bath, with sloped ceilings and a common room in the middle, long empty.  We went downstairs to the main floor, and I showed them my office, my library and across from that, across the grand entryway, a large living room with wide pocket doors which could be slid open to accommodate social gatherings.  Behind this was a dining hall with two more sliding doors, the room stretching all the way to the kitchen, completing the back of the house.

Below that was the basement.  On the right side a laundry room, on the left, the entrance to the wine cellar.  We entered that dim and dank place to the sight of six tall racks of wine bottles, hundreds of them, and behind that another whole wall of stacks of wine caskets.

As Jane gaped in amazement at this treasure she blurted out, “Roland, I want to marry you right now!”

“Ya until the last barrel runs out”  I replied.

In between these two rooms, running to the front of the house was a finished basement with a black tile floor.  It was the easy room, dimly lit, a billiard table in the middle, a fully equipped bar, a large flat screen T.V. with a couch that could accommodate five and past that a series of built-in shelves with a substantial record collection and a fancy turntable between two lounge chairs.  I’d hardly been down there a few times since he died.  It was my father’s extensive jazz collection, all vinyl, along with opera and classical and pop, over five hundred albums, where he liked to sit late at night and listen to music, sipping his Courvoisier.

Next we returned to the kitchen and out the back door, across the wooden patio with its sunken jacuzzi and deck chairs and table.  We walked past the garage straight to the cottage where Naomi used to live.  I told them a little about her and hoped that they’d meet her someday soon.  Then I walked them through the greenhouse and along the stone paths of the garden, full of trees and shrubs and flowers, all fenced in with an old, mossy, stone wall.  It was a private place, rich in greenery, where one could sit all afternoon on one of the oak benches and doze off or contemplate nature, as Andrew Marvell once did.

As we were strolling back Mary spoke up: “Roland, who cleans your house.  I noticed some of the rooms were quite dusty?”

“I let go my last housekeeper a year ago.  I’ve had a real problem with maids.  The young ones want to seduce and marry me.  The older ones pilfer.  When I let go my father’s servants, which I shouldn’t have, I put an ad in the paper and hired a pretty, young blond to come and clean for me.  Within two weeks she was making obvious, sexual advances and I found out she was divorced and had two children.  After that I hired a middle-aged Spanish woman who cleaned nicely for several months until I noticed silverware missing from the dining room cabinet.  I found out she was in hard circumstances so I paid her out of her troubles and let her go.  Since then the house collects dust, and I don’t know what to do.

“We could clean for you,” Mary piped up immediately.

“Yes, we could keep this house in order” Jane added, “and bring Scout by each week and we’d have added income, which we need right now.”

“Maybe you’re right.  With the two of you so much in love I’d have no fears of you seducing me.  But then the thought of you on your hands and knees scrubbing floors, that bothers me.  You’re my friends.”

I saw a simpler option.  Here were two women with no possible agendas upon me, not trying to use me for my money, people I liked.  They could stay here a few weeks and give me time to see what I could teach Scout.  That would reveal what the chip in our heads could accomplish.  I was inching towards a life-changing decision.  It's like diving off the high board at school for the first time.  You see others do it, but when it's your turn all sorts of thoughts and emotions flood in and you almost freeze.

“Let’s have lunch”  I said.  I pulled some of Naomi’s mother’s platters out of the fridge, set them on the counter, went downstairs with Jane to pick out several bottles of wine and we enjoyed a pleasant meal on the back deck in the sunshine.


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B.A. in Latin and Greek from U.C. Berkley. Writer, Blogger and retired Electrician.

Robert O'Reilly
Robert O'Reilly

I am educated in the Western Classical Tradition, B.A. from U.C. Berkeley in Latin and Greek, English major, one year at U. of Toronto, studied under Alain Renoir and Northrop Frye, read most classics full time for many years after university in French, English, Latin and Greek to the modern day. I am interested in the near future of technology, what changes it imposes upon our heritage and character as humans. Short stories and Essays are my medium.

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