Friday, 30 June 2017
Raising Minerva as a single father opened Marcel's eyes to how reckless he had been in the past. Rather than the father teaching the daughter, it seemed that the artist was the one who was learning several life lessons.
As he cared for her, he began to become a better father to all of his children: Mitch and Marius initially, but later, whenever he could, he arranged for his other six sons and daughters to spend some time with him - forming a sort of rota with all of their respective mothers. Although, his two twin heirs were keeping him especially busy at the moment, given that they were starting school very soon.
Giving birth hadn't exactly been a walk in the park for Marcel. As such, the experience put him off relationships for quite a while. But, still, he was a normal man, with the usual needs - and in his case, it was rather like feasting for several years and then starving yourself. However, he was determined not to go back to his old ways. Besides, following a certain operation, he was now unable to sire any further children, and his experiences over the last few years had caused him to grow and mature. He had changed.
His children would always come first... but deep down, Marcel was still hungry for love. Love, not lust. He wanted a real, fulfilling relationship - a romance that would last through the ages.
Almost like the bond his mother and father had.
"My God," Mac said to Roxy one Sunday afternoon. "I may love my grandkids, but you must admit, it's hard to get a moment's peace in this house!"
As he said these words, Mac was lying himself down on the sofa with a heavy sigh. Roxy giggled as she watched her husband flop down onto the leather structure, worn out by a day of running around after toddlers and youngsters. It would tire out an athlete... and Mac had never been the fittest of men.
They were alone in the house. Marcel had taken Minerva, Mitch, Marius and Jonah (his visiting child for this week) out to the playground to give his parents some space... and they were hoping to relax for as long as they could.
"Want to watch a film or something?" Roxy asked Mac.
"Maybe later, darling," Mac answered, closing his eyes. "I'm feeling a bit tired. I think I'll just have a little nap - we'll catch up later."
"No worries," Roxy replied. "I've some dishes to wash anyway."
"OK. Love you, Roxy."
"Love you too."
As Mac settled himself down, Roxy went into the kitchen to make a start on the dishes. After about half an hour, with the rack now full of sparkling crockery, she was feeling a tad thirsty. As she wandered over to the tea kettle, she remembered she wasn't alone.
"Mac, honey?" she called. "You want some tea?"
Odd. It wasn't like Mac to ignore her. Then again, he had said he would be taking a nap, and he was a heavy sleeper. Perhaps she would have to wake him up to get his answer.
Smiling, Roxy stepped into the living room and approached Mac, jostling his hand with her own.
"Mac? I'm making tea, do you want some?"
Mac still didn't respond.
Roxy realised that his skin was cold to her touch.
She shook his hand more vigorously, frightened. Then, she grasped his shoulders and shook his entire body - softly at first, then much harder.
It made no difference.
"Mac?! Mac, please!"
Tears welling up in her eyes, she placed two fingers on Mac's wrist, praying she would feel something. Her mind flashed back to the moment so many years ago when that damned bullet had pierced Mac's body - the night he had declared his love for her, scared he might never have the chance.
Roxy had never known terror like that before. Or since.
Not until now.
This couldn't be happening. Not like this.
There was no pulse.
Roxy's entire mind went blank. Her body froze as her knees buckled, forcing her to kneel on the carpeted floor. Her heart pounded rapidly in her chest.
The only heart there still beating.
Suddenly, out of the nothingness... a final, desperate thought.
"Mac!" Roxy wailed, clutching his hands. "I love you, Mac! I love you!"
Anger entered her voice when her beloved still did not respond.
"Say it back, Mac!" she screamed. "You have to say it back! That's what we said we'd always do, remember?! We promised! You can't break a promise!"
Her hands balled up into tight, rock-like fists. Furiously, she pounded on her husband's chest like an attacking animal.
"Say it! Say it back, you bastard!"
Releasing a howl of anguish, she entwined her arms around the motionless Mac: embracing him tightly, laying her head against his as she erupted into grief.
"I love you, Mac... I love you..."
She couldn't stop saying it. She wouldn't. Not even when her voice grew hoarse, changing her loud passionate calls into a timid whisper. When Marcel returned home, he found his mother still knelt at Mac's side - rocking him slowly as she wept, refusing to let him go.
As Mackenzie Miskin was laid to rest amongst his ancestors, and despite Marcel and her grandchildren being there to support her, Roxy found herself plagued by thoughts she had believed to be long since banished.
She had loved this man. Loved him more intensely and more deeply than anyone else she had ever loved. And now, just like her parents, aunt and uncle... he was gone.
The curse had struck again. Her love had cost him his life.
She would never forgive herself.
With the funeral concluded, Marcel approached his mother for a comforting embrace. However, to his shock and dismay, Roxy refused this gesture, gently pushed him away, and headed silently into the house - retreating to her bedroom, and locking the door behind her.
She didn't come out for the rest of that day... but Marcel could hear her weeping.
Not knowing what to do, the new head of the Miskin household turned his attention towards his two reasons for living: his children and his art. After feeding his little ones, playing with them, and tucking them into bed for the night, Marcel returned to his own room, stood before his easel, and channelled his grief into the paint-smeared canvas - staying up into the small hours of the morning creating artwork after artwork.
As the sun rose the next day, Marcel emerged from his anguished trance, stepped back, and saw the night's paintings with fresh sight.
They were the greatest pieces he had ever produced.
Two months later, Marcel's latest exhibition, Requiem, was the highlight of Willow Creek Gallery and the talk of the local art community. It seemed that, everyday, journalists were ringing and photographers were passing by to get a few words from, or snapshots of, the man of the hour - the genius Marcel Rhodes Miskin.
And it wasn't just the press. As Marcel's reputation grew, so did his fanbase - many of them passionate, creative young people, who flocked to the Miskin house in the hope of glimpsing their new idol. Marcel, still coping with the loss of his father, did his best to be polite to these unexpected visitors - sometimes stepping outside to speak to them briefly, or sign an autograph - but most of the time, after a few minutes, he ended up asking them to kindly go on their way.
With one exception.
It was a sunny Tuesday morning when she approached the front door of the Miskin house. She was a slender woman in her mid-twenties, with claret-coloured hair and ghostly pale skin. Her black Victoriana dress and low, soft voice gave her an overwhelming otherworldly aura... and it was something she played up to the nines.
When Marcel answered the door and laid eyes on her, he was spellbound. He felt his grieving heart skip a beat. As he tried to introduce himself, he tripped over his tongue - his sentences blurting out as a broken string of half-words.
His visitor just smiled coyly - looking up at Marcel through lowered eyelids.
"I do hope I haven't angered you, Mr. Miskin," she said. "My name is Maven Mortan-Murdac. I am a up-and-coming artist over in Forgotten Hollow... although I daresay my work is like childish scribbles compared to yours."
"Oh... c-come now, Miss!" Marcel said, choking out his response slowly and carefully. "I - I am sure you are treating yourself too harshly!"
"The art community here in Willow Creek is a lot livelier than the one in my home town," she continued, "and I'm hoping to meet others who have fallen under the influence of the Muses. I just saw your exhibition, Requiem, and I adored it: never before have I seen such a clever exploration of the themes of life and death. I know how busy you must be, but... if I may be so bold... I would love to spend an hour or two with you, just to discuss it."
"Perhaps... over coffee?"
Marcel wasn't used to this. In all of his past relationships, he had been the one to make the first move. But there was something about this stranger that was... different. Almost unnerving. She had this... air about her. Some mysterious allure that struck both love and fear into Marcel at the same time.
Every word she said sent his head into a spin.
She sent shivers down his spine - and he adored her for it.
He couldn't let her slip away.
"Mr. Miskin?" Maven repeated, concerned. "Would you care to have coffee with me?"
Marcel swallowed, his guest's words having sharply brought him back into the moment.
"I... I'd love to," he replied.
"Marvellous," Maven said. "I'll see you at the Old Tavern in Windenburg. Tomorrow, 3pm. Don't be late!"
As she walked away across the lawn, Marcel watched her closely - certain she had taken his heart with her.