A Long-Forgotten Madness

By Charles Matthias

Part I: Languido

Twenty years later, he had to return to Montana.

William left of course for Chicago after his brother Scott had committed suicide. He had not been back since. But now with the news of his Father’s death, he had no choice but to return. And so he sat huddled up in the aeroplane seat, hunched over a small book on what to do in a worst case scenario that a coworker had given him prior to his flight as a lark. He found the section dealing with survival in the event of an aeroplane disaster quite unsettling, and so skipped over that to the section on poisons.

Even though his eyes scanned many remedies, his mind fought to recall all that had happened that had led him to leave Montana in the first place. It was not that he had not enjoyed his younger years as a child growing up on his father’s ranch in the rolling hills north of Billings. On the contrary, he remembered with longing his father teaching him to ride, and the tending of the animals. And then, a smile crept across his lips as he thought of the land itself – verdant hills limned by the golden sun, while the stands of trees grew up in patches where the rain settled.

Sighing with that memory, William leaned back as best he could in his chair, turning the pages of his book but only barely seeing the words now. He could remember the father he had barely spoken to in the last twenty years, strong and confidant in his youth, a man that he hoped one day to be like. And there was his sister Ana, whom he had not spoken to in the last twenty years at all. Only a week after he had fled to Chicago they had talked, a conversation that had ended when she had slammed the receiver down, and that was the last they had spoken.

The unpleasant memory of that conversation made him even more introspective. The smile that had been creeping across his face vanished. A thin line took its place as his eyes strayed to the window. Clouds rested beneath him, soft luminous cushions that appeared more solid than they really were. Over the skies of Chicago he often saw such clouds, but only pieces of them. In Montana, the sky was filled with them from one horizon to the other.

William continued to let his eyes stray out that window. Towards the horizon, the clouds ceased and he thought he could see a thin line of the green, the southern extremes of Canada most likely. Or North Dakota. He was never very good with geography. In fact, when he had been growing up, taking over his father’s horse ranch had been his only real goal. It had seemed his future, and at one time, he had loved the horses. But then, in his senior year, something changed. He could not quite remember what, and he was not sure he wanted to remember, but it had been a slow poison that had killed his early love.

Nor was he quite sure why he had chosen Chicago to flee to, but now it was his home. Its tall skyscrapers were his new trees; the honking of horns, the shuffling of feet, and the cacophony of people’s voices were its natural sounds. He even had a few favourite delis picked out that he had been a customer of for nearly twenty years. And now, after twenty years, he’d lived there for just over half his life.

At first, he’d worked as a waiter in a restaurant while he took night classes. But after five years, he managed to get his degree, and take a job as a technical writer for an engineering firm. And there he’d stayed, safe in the mendacity of workplace jargon, surrounded by cement, steel, and glass, sheltered from the world where the land was open, and horses trod upon the ground.

William drew his eyes back in from the window then, letting out a heavy sigh. Opening the book once more, he flipped to the section on shark attacks. Try though he might, he could not make the words stay on the page. It seemed they had changed and were now reminding him of that final year in Montana. There was something horrid about it, something more than just his brother’s suicide at the end that had fouled it.

Ah yes, he realized without much enthusiasm. In fact, he felt a sense of revulsion from the memory, but he knew it was important, the first event that had brought on the deterioration. His mother, riddled with cancer, had finally passed away. Rubbing his temples, he could not help but hear his younger brother’s voice filling his ears once more, those beseeching prayers he’d given in the stables each night, that their mother might be saved. And then, after she’d died, his brother claiming that she had been...

William winced then and shook his head. That had all been twenty years ago now. He no longer lived there, and it would do him no good to dredge up those memories now. This was not about his mother or brother. His trip to Montana was about his father, and the final settling of his estate. He’d let his sister have the ranch if she wanted it. After his ties were finally severed, he had every intention of returning to Chicago never to go back.

And the first thing he’d do when he got back would be going to the restaurant he first started working in. Yes, he’d have their delicious ravioli, drenched in sauce. And as William let his mind settle around that thought, he managed a smile once again.

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