An epilogue to Lacus Somniorum’s Doctor Faust, this short story is narrated by Lucrece, the child of Amber and Louis. Lucrece narrates the life of Louis from her point of view, showing all her biases and personal convictions. It’s up to you to feel for Louis and put your foot in his shoes and call the treatment just.
A doctor who possessed Healing Hands, and a doctor with a heart of stone: that is how people described him, Louis. And due to his lack of compassion and love for others, many compared him to the mythical Doctor Faust of Goethe, who cared less for love and attention, and craved for nothing else but divine, complete knowledge. Louis, believe it or not, is my father. And as far as I can recall, I’ve never called him “Father”, or anything close to it. He ever treated me as his child. And so it seems, he has never spoke of any sort pride of having a child. He took me in, allowed me to live in his house, sleep in the room next to the always empty Master’s Bedroom (for an unexplainable reason, he always occupied the guestroom downstairs), and allowed me to cook his groceries for my own consumption, and sometimes, for the both of us whenever he comes home early at night; he showers me with material things, one which I can never complain about, for everytime computers and PDA’s call for an update, I’m one of the first to have the latest stuff, but in all these things he does for me, not even once have I felt the love of a father, my lone parent. He’s there, all right, but all his attentions are not love, and allow me to call it spacing-out. I’m grateful though. God Bless him, he never treated me a bastard.
Despite it all, I’m, well, sort of downhearted over this, for I feel I’m deprived of love. I tried asking him before why he treats me this way, during breakfast when we usually see each other eating in the same table, but no words came out. Sometimes, he comes home late at night, and I’m still awake, I’ve forced myself on my feet to leave my bedroom to travel down the stairs to talk to him, ready and fully persevered to finally ask him, I find him already snoring in the sofa: clothing akimbo, hair in a dark mess, the dark circles around his eyes turning darker still, and the dark-rimmed glasses still perched low on his patrician nose. Auntie Tiffany has told me before that Louis was twenty-eight years old when my mother gave birth to me, and that same year, only two years after they got acquainted, my Mother died. I had the impression that it is the reason why Louis ignores me. I’m the reason why he lost his young girl friend. Either that, or he simply loathes children, and my Mother wanted children and stressed against his wishes of not having children. Heck, he’s a doctor, he can easily abort the baby if he really wanted to. So I guess, my Mother wanted me. When I told that to Aunt Tiff, she burst into tears, mumbling through hands-covered mouth; “He loves you and your Mother more than you’ll ever know, Lucrece… More than you’ll ever know…”
See if I care, Aunt Tiff. See if I care. And see if he does care even if I try to.
But like all normal human beings, my patience has endings. I grew tired of not knowing anything about my biological mother. And so, one morning, while I was busy preparing breakfast for us two, and while he was busy reading today’s school paper, I gathered my courage and asked him.
My inquiry was blunt and straight to the point: Why have you never told me anything about my mother? I repressed the urge to add side comments – Do you hate me? Do you hate her for me? Did she hate you? Did she hate you enough as to make you swear never to tell me lies that she loved me and you? – for out of respect, I maintained an iron grip on my tongue. He sat there still reading the blasted newspaper, holding it over his face, shielding it from my sight, unchanging and immobile, like he didn’t hear anything. Seconds later, he moved – Thank God, he moved! – and lowered the newspaper down, enough to allow me to see his face. That familiar blank look was plastered on his face again, and it had always been so difficult to pierce through that wall he erected around himself to keep others from reading his thoughts, or assessing as the emotions danced on his face. The glimmer on his beautiful eyes and the slight frown of his lips remained undefinable, like a Noh mask. Like the Mona Lisa. Like myself. But definitely not like my mother.
As seconds ticked by, the coffee in my cup turned cold, and he has said not even a single word. He only stared at me. And stared. And stared. And within minutes, I realized that I was all alone in the room, with the neatly folded newspaper lying on his side of the breakfast table the only sign of his departed presence.
Life continued normally enough. I left home for school early in the morning, with full account of the fact that the door of the guestroom was still locked from the inside, and returned from school in the afternoon, home alone as usual. I took dinner early at seven, and headed straight to my bedroom, locked the door as he always did, to shut the rest of the world out, to shut him out, and never talk to him again. I didn’t want to see him anymore. I didn’t want to feel like an alien in his home anymore, which only happens when I’m in the same room with him, and so I keep my distance as I always had.
I went out with my friends more frequently than before, and came home late than I ever did. But one night, when I arrived home by three in the morning, Louis greeted me with an evident frown on his face. When I opened the door, I found him standing there, glaring at me with full hatred that I didn’t know he possessed. He was trying to intimidate me, scold me without uttering a single word. After all, that was his nature. All you’ll ever get from him is a long, sharp stare that you want to falter and surrender under his gaze, and then you’ll end up apologizing. But he can never do that to me, so with chin held high posing proudly, I walked past him. To my surprise, he grabbed my arm and pulled me roughly towards him, making me stumble a bit in the process, then I smelt alcohol all over him. I wasn’t scared at all, I was angry. I demanded him to let go of me, yet his fingers around my arm only tightened further. Even when the tears misted at my eyes, I didn’t feel fear at all. Again, I yelled at him and tried to pull my arm away from his vice-like grip. On that last attempt, he released me. With eyes wide and mouth slightly agape, he stared again. And stared. And stared as I ran away, heading to my bedroom. I slammed and locked the door behind me, threw myself to the bed, and dug my face into my pillows, determined to make the tears stop. I wasn’t scared at all.
The day after that, Aunt Tiff and her husband, Mr. Paloway, both good friends of Louis and my mother, as they had said, invited me to go out with them. They delivered the good news to me — that they were expecting a baby, which was a blessing after three years of marriage and still without a child. Aunt Tiff, looking healthy and happy, announced her wish to make me the baby’s godmother. Mr. Paloway didn’t seem to disagree, for he was healthy and happy as she was.
Aunt Tiff took me to the dress shop and we tried on and bought dresses for ourselves. I was so surprised when she pulled cash from her own wallet to pay for my clothes. I offered her my card but she refused. She only said that they’re gifts, as a sign of apology. I don’t remember her doing anything that really roused my anger, except that time when she gave a bath to my siamese cat and nearly drowned the poor thing in scented water, and as a result, shedded all her beautiful fur. I still have little Marjorie at home, healthy, alive and still kickin’, and I’ve already forgiven her for that. Not that I had been seriously angry at her, call it upset, but not quite angry. The only thing that’s prone to make me really angry is whenever Louis does something really out-of-the-blue and definitely stupid.
I shoved the remark right away and dismissed it, only grateful that I had the chance to go out shopping with a mother-figure. That day I only wished to forget what happened that night, which was what I just did until it was time for dinner, and Mr. Paloway drove us to the Russian restaurant they owned. Mr. Paloway said that it was once a small Cafe ran by a solitary girl, beautiful and simple, who had also made the life of another man beautiful and simple in the beginning but destroyed it in the end. I took a wild guess that Mr. Paloway was stating his own broken romance when he was younger, or perhaps Aunt Tiff’s, since they exchanged serious, meaningful glances when they thought I wasn’t looking. To clear up my thoughts, I didn’t hesitate to ask Mr. Paloway to say more, but Aunt Tiff complained about her grumbling stomach and requested her husband to go ahead of us and have a table ready right away.
We had a very wonderful dinner. The pair chattered about their happy moments together, even before they were wed. Like that time when Mr. Paloway first confessed his feelings to Aunt Tiff, and how she humorously replied to it.
Late at ten, the Paloways drove me home. Along the way, Aunt Tiff asked if I wanted to transfer schools, and perhaps stay at an apartment. It seemed like a wonderful idea, and told her I’m going to think about it. I’ve always wanted to live alone, I told her. I wanted a life away from Louis, but I didn’t tell her that. Come to think of it, they never asked anything about the old man. Almost all the time we’re together, it’s either Aunt Tiff or Mr. Paloway who brings up the topic: How are things at home? Is Louis behaving? How’s your patience span doing? Ever think of leaving home? Don’t you ever get tired of stomaching that egoisitcal bastard? However, it was a perfect strike for me since I don’t want to talk about him. Everything about that person makes me so uneasy and uncomfortable. He’s lucky I never thought of actually suing him for abandonment or sexual molestation. I thanked the generous couple for taking me out (for a change) and for the gifts.
All throughout the day I mentally calculated my purchases; I never knew they had this much to spend for a friend, who obviously have more to spend than them. And so, I was so grateful. Mr. Paloway began that I shouldn’t thank them, but Aunt Tiff poked his elbows and mouthed a quick quiet at him. They bid me good night and then their car drove through the streets to their nice home.
As usual, I got home before Grumpy. The house was quiet and dark. I went straight to the kitchen for a glass of water. And at the kitchen breakfast table, a complete dinner meal greeted me with an appetizing look on its face. Though I’ve already eaten dinner, the food served was my favorite. Perhaps Grumpy got home at around nine, felt a little generous, made dinner which was too much for himself, left them on the table, and went back to the hospital. I decided to shower and put on fresh clothing before I eat the food, then head straight to bed, or perhaps read a book.
The stairway that leads to the upstairs bedrooms stands next to the door of the guestroom. I didn’t expect to see the soft lamplight flicker from inside the room, and the door was halfway open. I crept closer for a look, and for the first time, I laid my eyes on the sight that this door concealed from me for as long as I could remember, and what I saw had completely caught me off-guard. I thought the guestroom was his office, with a large, wooden table at the middle of the room, shelves standing tall against the dark, dusty walls, with pieces of paper scattered across the floor; but in fact, the room looked like a girl’s bedroom: peach-colored wallpapers ornamented the walls, carpeted floors, and I’m sure I saw a plant pot in the far corner of the room on top of a narrow writing desk.
Determined to see more of the room, I walked to the door and quietly stepped inside – completely different from what I imagined. There were shelves, all right, but even from where I stood, I was able to see several romance and fantasy books that would totally drive me crazy if I find out that he reads them. I scrutinized the room further and saw my old man sleeping soundly on a single-sized bed. He still wore his usual working attire, but a few buttons were out of their holes, and his bony chest was bared down to the top of his pants. I caught a glimpse of some sort of dark stain on the right side of his abdomen, and walked closer for a look. Reaching my hands out, I traced the horizontal mark about three inches long, which looked like fading stitch scars, and then the sleeping person suddenly jerked in his sleep, eyes growing wide and overflowing with emotions behind those glasses. I tried to make up an excuse, mumbling like an idiot, when his impassive voice asked how I got in the room.
I wanted to say: “Idiot. You left the door open.”, but instead, I said, “I just got home. Aunt Tiff and Uncle Alfred took me out.”
Why did I even care to tell him that? Even when he sat on the bed and adjusted his clothing, he didn’t seem like he needed the information. In the first place, he never asked for it. But I wanted a conversation.
“Whose room was this?”
But there was no answer. I tried to repeat the question, but he stood up suddenly, startling me, and walked away as if nothing happened. That time, however, I demanded an answer. I threw several questions at him, those that had bothered me, those about my mother, their relationship, how she died, what was that room for, why he slept in it, and why he abandoned his role as my father.
On this last question, his legs stopped. He took a deep breath, tilted his head back, and said, “Rest.”
I completely ignored his existence since then. I moved to a private school after the semester, and stayed at the school dormitory. The next year I felt like I was freed from my bonds, frustrations, and hurts. And a year after, I learned to forget my past and left it where it wanted to be, but still visited the Paloways twice a month to give little Nicholai a present. I spent the Christmas with them, and I was very happy. I had my first love at eighteen. To me, it seemed like my eighteenth birthday blessing. Leonard was a blessing. He had given me love that I’ve never felt before, he taught me to yearn for another and feel yearned in return. He loved me as a man would. And I realized how it felt like to be loved by a real man.
And at that same year, the year I turned eighteen, November 26th, the man called Faust was bedridden.
Uncle Alfred forced me to come to the hospital where the man worked. Along the way, he reassured me that his wife was there with him, and that he made him promise to wait until we arrive. I left all my feelings for Louis at that gloomy house when I left four years ago, and so I did not feel any attachment to him. I wasn’t sad, nor afraid. I was shocked, yes, but that was all.
We arrived sometime in the evening. A lot of crying people greeted me and embraced me on our way to the ICU. He was infact a stranger to me now. And it seems that everytime I’m around him, I become surrounded by more like him. Uncle Alfred opened the door, and Aunt Tiffany lept into his arms in tears. She said that he had been groaning in pain, refusing pain killers and sedatives for the past four hours. They sent me inside, and closed the door behind me, leaving me and the stranger in the room.
A part of me didn’t want to come any closer. Another wanted to leave. I already made a swift turn to the door, when a tearful groan sounded from behind me, followed by a hoarse call of my name.
For as far as I can remember, that was the first time he had called me by my name.
My legs disobeyed me. I wanted to run away from him, as I’ve done before, but my legs only took me closer to him. And after four years, the stranger who was supposed to be my father became a stranger still. The circles were darker around his slightly sunken eyes, and dark valleys on his cheeks. He didn’t seem to have dyed his hair; there were white streaks of hair on his head. He looked up at me, still unemotional as before. And I stared back with contempt.
“You were leaving?” went his hoarse, scratchy voice.
I nodded. I couldn’t find my voice.
And there was silence; silence which stretched as long as those four years we hadn’t kept in touch.
Desperate to say something, I’ve mentally sequenced my speech. I wanted to berate him for abandoning me all those years. I wanted to demand him to not even dare to blame me for leaving. Part of me wanted to yell at him for letting me leave four years ago, but a part of me wanted to cry infront of him, kneel by his side, hold his hand and say that I’m sorry.
But this wasn’t my fault.
He allowed me to leave.
He wanted me to leave.
He hated me, and allowed me, and wanted me to leave him forever.
I opened my mouth to speak, but his voice came out quicker than mine.
Slowly, like he was telling a bedtime story, he told me of my mother– that she used the guestroom after her small home/coffee shop was burned to the ground, that he left her for a six months while she carried their child and was in a very unstable health condition, that he tried to save her life the moment he retured, but failed.
He said that I was born the day she died.
I knew that.
But he not a part of his story implied that I was the reason she died.
He said that he held her heart in his hand when she died, and desperately tried to revive her.
He said that he had told her once that she couldn’t give birth, for it would weaken her body and make her defenseless.
And he said that when Aunt Tiff showed him their child for the first time, he couldn’t understand why he didn’t shed a tear despite everything.
And again, there was silence, for my tears spoke words that only he could hear.
I held his hand, still smooth and tight and warm, and dried my tears on them. All I heard from him was his breathing– slow, deep but painful. Neither he nor I said a word after all that he had said. Perhaps he waited for my response.
He knew I hated him. He felt it. All those years I thought he ignored me, but all those time, he was letting me hate him. He called it his punishment. He thought he did not deserve her, or me, or anyone, and so he strayed far away. He blamed himself for what happened to my mother, and he feared to love again and be hurt in the end. He kept his distance because I hated him. He accepted that it was his fault, before anyone even put the blame on him. “You’ve grown.” he said.
I asked him to stay a bit longer, to be strong as he was three years ago. I promised him we will spend the remaining days of our life making up for all the years we’ve wasted once he got better. I urged him to get better soon. I told him, that in the morning, I’ll take him out on his wheelchair for a stroll outside, so he can see how taller I’ve gotten. It was impossible to ask him how much I’ve grown to look like my mother in this dark room.
He slept afterwards. And slept. And slept on for days. Weeks later, he was taken out of the ICU. When he got strong enough, I took him out on his wheelchair as I had promised, but nothing else seemed to change. He was silent and still as the lake. No matter how long I wade in the waters, the lake remained serene. But the peacefulness felt heavy in the chest, and it wasn’t peace at all.
But that quesy feeling was short-lived, when the Doctor continued to sleep, and never opened his eyes again.
The last thing he said to me was, “I have a gift for you.”
Until now I still don’t know what he meant. Maybe if I return home, and try to search his house for anything he had left for me, I’ll understand. But I don’t feel like going back home yet. It doesn’t feel right at the moment. I still can’t believe how such strong person like him can wither and die like all the others. I don’t want to come home and see that house empty as before. During the last days I spent with him, I thought I’d get the chance to come home to his house and be welcomed by him. I don’t want to go there and realize that the house on Brook Street will always be empty, unless I stay there and keep it. Everyone cries. Even those who never knew him. I know because I am crying. And I don’t know why because I never really knew him. People pretend to understand others to make them feel that they have something or someone to hold on to or rely on to; just to keep them from giving up. But I wonder if he needed that? I wonder if he even cared if I, or anyone, knew him at all? I guess I’ll never find out. But through other people’s memories of him, through all the others whose lives he had taken part of, perhaps I could try.
A doctor who possessed Healing Hands, and a doctor with a heart of stone: that is how people described him, Louis. But as I move onto my own life, I wondered why he never tried to heal his own heart, turn it into something other than rock and send the shadows away. On our last time together, he healed mine. But despite his confessions, he still held on to his grief. Even in his sleep, I could see his pain. He never tried to apologize, perhaps, because he thought I wouldn’t forgive. But I would, and I did. And I’m sure my mother did as well, but he never heard. Because she was dead.