Letter 4 – Part 4
I faced a dilemma. I could not say with certainty that Robin had entered this alley. Pausing, I strained to see farther along the street, in hopes I may spy Robin and therefore have been mistaken about the objective of the fellow in green and his mate. But I spied nothing of my brother, which may have meant he in fact turned into this filthy alley, or I’d simply lost sight of him in the street and perhaps even then he was sitting down to a drink with Mr Andropov. How stupid and pointless it would be to be murdered or worse in this fetid alley if Robin were, in truth, nowhere about. That was my thinking as I proceeded forward, leaving behind the commotion and relative safety of Harrow Street. Immediately my eye found the green coat, standing apart like a garden oasis, an Eden in fact, amidst a region devastated by countless calamities: fire and famine, pestilence and plague, destitution and draught. The alley was narrow and not altogether straight, thus with the debris and its higgledy-piggledy course, I could not see what was before me more than a few yards, and even then it was consistently obfuscated by piles of wretched refuse. Therefore I only glimpsed the verdant coat two or three times before the melee began. It started with a dog barking, some sort of medium breed of hound perhaps, quite adamant in its protestations. Then there was human shouting—for want of a better word. I would perhaps write ‘screaming’ but I feel scream has a feminine connotation and these were definitely male vocalizations. I had quite frozen in my path, listening with my own sort of canine ferocity. Only for a moment or two, however, for it was interrupted by boisterous movement back toward my position. By instinct I stepped behind some festering crates and knelt near as I was able to the wall. I was now quite convinced that these fellows had nothing to do whatsoever with Rev Grayling but were rather a pair of ne’er-do-wells or even cut-throats who were of a mind to fall upon my unsuspecting brother for their own malignant purpose.
My musings were halted when the men ran past me in their haste to exit the alley. The somber-suited fellow knocked over a crate which was, I hoped, shielding me from view. It was no matter because their only aim was to reach the alley’s entrance and the relative calm of the street. I noted, almost matter-of-factly in the instant, that the green-coated man’s arm hung oddly angled at his side as he ran—severely broken without doubt. The hound had ceased its bellowing and once the pair had passed, all was weirdly quiet. My sisterly devotion returned with the end of the immediate danger, and I wondered at Robin’s well-being. Still kneeling at the alley’s brick wall I listened acutely. I detected the clicking scurry of vermin somewhere nearby, and there were the street sounds, more muffled than they ought to have been by the distance but the alley’s clutter also cut the noise, which was moving toward night in the city.
Perhaps I possess a more intrepid soul than I give myself credit, or perhaps it was due to the strength of my sororal instinct—but whichever the case I rose from my semi-exposed position near the wall and proceeded deeper into the bowel of the gloomy alley. I moved forward slowly and, yes, charily; but, indeed, forward. I therefore had ample time to consider my course. You will think me silly, my dear, or perhaps even touched when I say that I thought of Ulysses’ descent to the underworld. I recalled the sacrificial blood he spilled to call for the shades, and for the briefest of moments I believed I saw just such a mark at my feet in the alley: a dark patch of blood. It was in fact some other, equally loathsome fluid that lay in a puddle upon the grimy ground.
To conclude, I discovered no one else in the alley, not my brother nor even the dog I had heard—though my frayed imagination conjured a sort of presence: a feeling I was not alone, that there were eyes upon my back no matter which way I turned. I wondered that maybe some shades had been summoned forth after all. There were several doors scattered along the alley, and I conjectured that Robin, the dog, and whoever else the pair of ne’er-do-wells may have encountered had already absconded indoors somewhere. Satisfied that at least I did not find my brother mortally injured in some wretched corner, I removed myself from the ‘underworld’ and returned home without further incident. Once on the street, among clearly corporeal beings, I no longer felt the ghostly presence at my heel. I do not know what Mrs O or the children missed me at all.
I must conclude this tome, my love, and I shall do so with the assurance that I am quite well and that I will exercise more sense from now on. I realize that as wife and mother I have a duty to the children; and it is selfish to risk my safety except in the sole charge of protecting and preserving them (I write this so that you do not have to).
Ted Morrissey is the author of four books of fiction as well as two books of scholarship. His works of fiction include the novels An Untimely Frost and Men of Winter, and the novella Weeping with an Ancient God, which was named a Best Book of 2015 by Chicago Book Review. His stories, essays and reviews have appeared in more than forty publications. He teaches in the MFA in Writing program at Lindenwood University. He lives near Springfield, Illinois, where he and his wife Melissa, an educator and children’s author, direct Twelve Winters Press.