Dec 3 2011
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Reginald Beckett—England 1790
Like casualties of war, fallen on the field of battle, the glasses were laid out across the wooden table, a testament to my drinking capacity. Also evidence of my better abilities was my companion, double my size, cheek down in spilt ale, his eyes heavy and nearly closed. It was a sad reflection on my life when this was all that remained.
I gazed around the smoke-filled room, crammed with drunken disheveled men and whores draped across their laps. For a brief second, an image of Maggie tending the fire in our cottage—with William hoisted on her hip and Annie clinging to her skirt—flitted through my mind. The emotions it brought forth nearly overwhelmed me. I shook my head in the faint hope of erasing the picture and, as I did so, my eye caught a young woman watching me from the doorway. She was dressed in a cream and gold dress, her hair piled on top of her head; luxurious curls the color of coffee beans cascaded down around her milk-white shoulders and neck. Her skin appeared dewy and soft, emphasized by the glittering array of jewels adorning her. She smiled at me through deep red lips, and I had the vague sensation I had seen her before.
I looked back at my companion, resting comfortably across the table, his heavy fingers still wrapped around his drink. “Hey.” I knocked his glass with my own, and he jolted awake, sloshing the contents as he did so. He squinted one bloodshot eye up at me. “Have you seen that lady?” I asked.
He glanced at the door and back, a bewildered expression on his face. “Beckett, there’s no one there.” I spun my head around, the room swaying dangerously as I did so. The doorway was empty.
“You should have another drink mate,” he suggested, his hand lifting his glass up to his mouth in jerky wild motions. The liquid spilled over the rim before he actually connected with his lips. I dumped the remains of my mug in my mouth, slapped some coins on the table, and extricated myself from the bench.
“Where are you going?” My companion slurred to me.
I swayed a bit as I stood, steadying myself on the corner of the table. “Home,” I lied, smiling sardonically at the use of that word in reference to the dilapidated room in which I slept, and lurched toward the door. The night air was refreshing, despite the smells of decaying sewage that always accompanied the river. A fog was rolling in, and the air was wet with it. I lifted my face, closing my eyes and breathing deeply, happy to be free of the stench of stale ale and sweat, pondering which direction to proceed to find the woman. I needn’t have bothered.
When I opened my eyes, she was there watching me from a few yards away. She turned and quickly vanished around the corner. It was enough to entice me. She looked back every now and then but never slackened her pace, her skirt swirling around her feet. I followed unsteadily, listening to the clicking of her boot heels on the cobblestones until she treaded silently, the cobblestones melding into the dirt and mud that comprised most of the back roads.
She waited patiently down a darkened street, and I paused, confused as to the nature of her business on a road littered with rotting garbage and puddles. Her stature and seeming position was out of place for this locale. No proper lady would be out unaccompanied in a deserted alley. My curiosity and desire overrode my concerns as I approached her.
“Do I know you, ma’am?” I inquired, attempting to use my best accent. She smiled slowly, the corners of her mouth turning up, her lips crimson against her stark skin. She was younger than me, maybe twenty. Her eyes were a deep gray, like the pewter tea kettle my mother had used.
“No, Mr. Beckett, you don’t. But I’ve been watching you.” I reached out a hand for the wall of the building and, leaning on it for support, contemplated her statement and how she knew my name.