Demise ignites “One Above and One Below,” the fourth and concluding story from Reveries. Actresses Valerie Quennessen and Consuelo de Haviland inspired “One Above and One Below.”
While glimpsed from today’s vantage, events occur in the pivotal year of 1989. In this telling, Caleb Abercrombie joins Paul Knox, one of his best buds from his undergraduate years, in a European sojourn. Perhaps their travel might be seen as a last gasp of irresponsibility and irrepressibility.
In this excerpt, the two 30-somethings have sailed from England to Holland.
… At disembarkation they trained into Amsterdam. The short blue and egg yolk locomotive made all local stops.
The duo chugged through the tame Dutch countryside in a sparsely peopled carriage. A single woman and two couples rode with them. The woman sat in the seat ahead, her back to them. One pair sat in the aisle athwart. The other twosome sequestered in corner seats.
Entering the coach and examining their fellow passengers, Abercrombie noticed both couples wore the telltale footwear of porky, sunburned Americans at play: fresh from the box white sneakers. What compelled his countrymen to wear pristine shoes while vacationing? Another tic of theirs which completely escaped him
Thanks to the woman’s prompting all within earshot discovered her neighbors visited from Oklahoma. Apparently she hoped shortening the trip by drawing them out through questions. Despite her wheedling, the Okies, both in the primary stages of “biscuit poisoning,” answered monosyllabically.
‘Maybe they’re just overwhelmed,’ Abercrombie thought. ‘Or maybe it’s just being from Oklahoma.’
Abercrombie deduced this train carried few passengers. The peddler trundled her cart with frequency. Unaware of the paucity of customers, Knox bought six beers during her second swing. The stubby green cans held insufficient suds. Worse, the railroad charged rip-off prices for pony amounts.
Obviously the vendor knew the woman sitting ahead. Every pass let them converse familiarly in Dutch. Probably gossip.
Knox suggested that at the next station they bolt on a beer run. Every station had a sundries store. He’d already checked the schedule. Ten minutes to sprint there and back, filling a bag and paying in between.
“Piece of cake,” he said. “Just as long as the locals don’t mistake it for a jailbreak.”
Though the desolate little train station seemed lacking, its store offered the essentials: rolling papers, crisps, rubbers and, yes, beer. They sat again in their carriage with minutes to spare.
During their absence the woman ahead of them reversed her seating. She now faced them. Abercrombie now hazily recognized the ginger-haired stranger but Knox distracted him before he solidly identified her.
All the carriages weren’t furnished with WC’s. The car behind lacked; the front of theirs furnished one. That restroom attracted a head-swerving promenade. By stroke of dumb luck all needing relief were female, quite tall, shapely. Red-blooded American males such as Abercrombie and Knox were, both felt obliged to eye-ball and undress each woman who passed.
Their antics embarrassed the Oklahomans. Good. Yet they amused the woman facing them. Abercrombie evaluated her during a lull. His internal clock must’ve been slow. He stared at her long enough to unnerve himself. She, though, accepted his impertinence with aplomb.
Fair-complexioned with gaudy red hair, the woman appeared comfortably disposed. The lower portion of her round face trembled towards involuntary giggles. Mischief flashed behind her blue eyes. Turquoise combs kept her crimson in check. All except for a thick red flip which exaggerated the carriage’s sway. Occasionally these strands tumbled across her forehead, swiping her nose and eyes.
Patient fingers restored the rebel lank but never for long. When she smiled at Abercrombie slick curling lips whose ends twisted into curlicues framed perfect teeth.
Dimples put a name to her face.
Forgetting they clacked through the Netherlands, and presuming she’d understand his impertinence, Abercrombie said, “I know you.”
She answered in rolling, lowlands accented English. “Do you?”
Knox, his mind elsewhere, returned to the coach. Pretty woman always interested him. Those bearing pert breasts – like this honey – especially interested him. He asked Abercrombie to introduce them.
Honor van Ruysselberghe. The actress. The Anglo-Belgian actress.
As much a mouthful as her surname proved, Knox struggled against sniggering at her given name. Honor? A prank, no? If so, it was elaborate. But when would the conspirators have had time to plot? And where? “Honor” sure hadn’t crossed with them from Harwich. Hair brilliantly red as hers on that ferry surely would’ve drawn Knox’ notice.
Indeed. Honor she was. Knox almost burst from smiling.
Journalism had immunized Abercrombie against the distortions of celebrity. Having seen too many notables at their worst, then reporting them, lessened his susceptibility to star power. Therefore, Honor van Ruysselberghe didn’t dazzle him. Indeed she possessed a modest luminosity. She consciously dampened her wattage. Light makeup. Little jewelry. No shades. Plain kip instead of designer labels.
Although she was their contemporary, her lack of adornment subtracted years.
She was merely another passenger on a train. One who lived bigger than life onscreen. Or projected from the stage. Or worked those TV close-ups.
Abercrombie sketched on Knox’ blank canvas. Honor played featured roles. She rarely starred, but instead often served as “best friend,” “confidant,” or “foil.” Her characters provided common sense, became sounding boards or were stabile platforms amid tumult. Usually in women’s dramas derived from beach literature.
Abercrombie’s erudition, his film knowledge, flattered her. Knox saw a chance to undercut his friend. He seized it. …