Anything for my Children
The moon was full and bright, and despite its cold winds, this made the perfect evening for Alistair to spend with his beloved wife. It was a ritual that they shared for many years, that on every full moon, they would dine on the marble balcony that overlooked their garden of cherry blossoms. Dinner was prepared by their servant Walter, who would bring a new dish that he learned during his holidays in Italy. Every dish was always accompanied with the perfect wine. Each night spent with her was more precious than the last, until Victoria never sat across from him again.
“A beautiful evening, is it not?” Alistair asked, hoping that the wind would answer. Victoria had passed six years prior, and despite her absence, Alistair always requested that Walter prepare a dinner for two on every full moon. For six years, he sat across a vacant seat, eating his meal and drinking his wine, alone.
Her death came without warning. One day Victoria never woke from her sleep after a day of nursing a fever. Noticing something was amiss, Alistair drove his unconscious wife to the hospital. He was willing to sacrifice his life if it meant she would live, but that opportunity never came.
Unwilling to consume another bite, Alistair stood, and made his way toward the study. Opening the two arched French doors, the lights illuminated the wondrous library that was built with cherry wood. First edition Victorian books lined much of the left three tiers, while early American literature decorated the right. In the center of the room stood two leather chairs with a cocktail table, that normally had two aged whiskeys on the rocks. Alistair reminisced of how the décor would flicker in the shadows of the stone fireplace, as he and his wife sat and read. That evening, much like the dinner, one glass would remain untouched. We would feed off each other’s love for reading, without saying a single word. Her passion was the early dark transcendentalists, while Alistair preferred English Gothic literature. Since her death, he found himself gravitating towards her favorite stories over his own. That evening he opened Poe’s “Ligeia,” romanticizing and envious of the narrator’s fortune.
Yet, the most grievous pain that Alistair experienced from her absence was not his own, but the pain that his children felt. Victor and Lasaile were two years apart, but their birthdays landed on the same day. It was Lasaile’s sixth birthday and Victor’s eighth when Victoria passed away. It became difficult to celebrate their birthday, when it was a reminder of loss. Alistair tried his best to comfort the two, but the emptiness that grew within him extended to them as well. After her funeral, both Victor and Lasaile found themselves researching and studying scientific journals nearly all hours of the day. Alistair never truly knew why the obsession came to be, but if it helped them cope, he was willing to aid them in any way possible. By the time Victor had reached the age of fourteen, he already had several articles published in scientific magazines in regards to curing and treating diseases that plagued humanity. Lasaile met the same accomplishment, but two years younger than her older brother.
Alistair’s continuing contribution to Victoria’s memory had been ensuring that their children receive all they needed to grow into strong, respectable, and intelligent people. All that they’ve asked from their father was always provided.
Upon closing “Ligeia,” Alistair returned the book back in its section. He ran his fingers across the spine of the book, before running them through his regal blonde hair. Alistair turned back to the coffee table, grabbed his whiskey, swilled the clanking cubes against the glass, and took a sip.
“Will this conclude your reading, sir?” Walter said, as he entered the study.
“I suspect so.” Alistair finished his drink, then placed it on the coffee table.
“I know that it is of no place of mine to intrude, sir, but you seem more under the weather than usual. I’m sure you’re aware that since Mrs. Harkins’ passing, you’ve rarely left the manor.” Walter walked down to the coffee table and retrieved Alistair’s glass. “she would not have wanted you to dwell, you of all people should know this.”
“What would you have me do?”
“Perhaps it’s time for to step outside for some fresh air, as you used to do? I know I’ve said this before, but I do wish you would end the torment that you put yourself through.” Walter walked beside Alistair and continued, “you mustn’t blame yourself, sir.” Walter walked towards the door and stopped, before saying, “Think of your children.”
“They do mean the world to me. And you know that I would trade my fortune for their happiness.”
“Yes, I’m quite aware, but I would also like to not be out of a job.”
“You’re safe, old friend.” Alistair gave Walter a weak smile.
“I’ll leave you to your bidding.” Walter said, as he left the study.
Alistair exited the study, and closed the doors behind him. As he was about to make his way to his room, the screams of Lasaile echo through the halls.
“Father! Victor’s been using my experiments without my permission, and he managed to break one!” She had acquired a thick London accent from her years of studying abroad, as had her older brother. The figure of a young woman wearing a lab coat emerged from the dark hall, with an adolescent boy, closely following.
“It's not like I broke it on purpose,” Victor said. “I just wanted to test out a hunch I had. It's not my fault your toys are so fragile.”
“You could have used your own toys if you wanted to test something out, or did you manage to break everything on your end so you needed to ruin mine?” Lasaile said, in a mocking tone.
Lasaile was as beautiful as she was smart. Her skin as white and soft as snow, and her hair was as dark as a raven, much like her mothers, which made her black eyes enchanting, quite like Victoria. She carried her youth with the look of innocence, but her mind let everyone know that she was not only an equal, but superior to many.
Victor shared his father’s features with his golden hair, and his burning blue eyes. Victoria used to love talking about Victor’s and Alistair’s eyes. She would always tell them that their eyes burned with passion and desire.
“You're a monster, Victor,” said Lasaile as she began to fake a sob in front of her father.
“I told you, I didn't mean to-” Victor was quickly cut off by their father's commanding voice.
“Enough,” said Alistair. “If you need something replaced, I’ll get it for you, but please, don’t use your sister’s tools or projects without her permission.”
“I’m sorry, father,” Victor responded.
“Thank you, father,” Lasaile said, smugly.
“Also,” said Alistair, “you must respect your brother, Lasaile. Even if he managed to ruin something of yours, he’s still your brother. And family is the most important thing we have.”
“Yes, father,” said Lasaile.
The two siblings gave each other an apologetic look. Alistair thought silently for a moment before saying, “go and find something else to work on in the moment being. Ask Walter if he has anything for you to use.”
“Yes, father,” they said as they walked down the hall together.
A calm smile grew on Alistair's face upon their leave, to which he retired in his room. Looking out of the window, he thought, they mean the world to me. I just wish you were here with us. Alistair closed the blinds, then went to bed.
Nearly a month later, one early morning, Alistair decided to finally take Walter’s advice and leave his home. Walter drove him to a coffee shop, where Alistair decided he would remain, alone. He sat, pondering on what he would do, what he would say. Not only had he not been in the company of another woman since Victoria, he hadn’t approached anyone since her. No other woman ever mattered as much as she.
He took a sip of his coffee, watching several women order, wait, then leave. What am I even doing here? he thought. He felt foolish to even attempt to play these dating games. He was a man well in his forties, and dating wasn’t a game meant for someone of his status. He picked up his phone, and just as he was about to call Walter, he decided against it and walked out of the coffee shop.
Warmed by his coat and coffee, Alistair walked for almost an hour before he saw a park, vacant of all but nature and a small number of people. His interest grew as he saw a woman working on an easel, so he walked through the dew-covered grass, soiling his black leather shoes. The closer he got, the more he could see the picture that she was working on. Drawn in charcoal, it was of the park before her, and the two teenagers, the girl, looking as if she is kicking for a goal, while the boy was defended. The trees were detailed to the bark and leaves, while the grass had droplets of water pooling on their stems. The scenery was nothing short of spectacular, as it mirrored the park to perfection.
Alistair had not been aware how fixated he was, and for that, he failed to realize how close he had gotten. “This is spectacular,” he said aloud.
The woman jumped in shock, at the man that was almost over her shoulder.
When Alistair saw her rummaging through her bag, that was when he realized where he was and how uninviting it may have been. “Oh, I do beg your forgiveness,” he said, taking several steps back. “That was quite rude of me, it’s just I. . . I’m sorry but your work, it’s breathtaking.”
Her smoke gray eyes gave him a defensive look. She wasn’t entirely frightened anymore, but she didn’t look like she was going to be inviting either. As she looked at him, something was familiar, but she couldn’t quite tell what. “Well, you shouldn’t sneak up on people like that. I coulda pepper sprayed you, you know.” Her hands appeared were longer be reaching for what it was she was looking for. “But, thank you for that compliment.”
Finally getting a moment to see the artist, he wasn’t sure what captured his eyes more: the art, or her. Her chestnut brown hair complimented her eyes and fair skin well. She even made the simplicity of her white blouse, black jacket, denim jeans, and black buckled boots look sensational.
“I’m not trying to compliment you. I’m merely trying to speak the truth,” he said. “What you’ve done here, is nothing shy of masterful.”
From being defensive to now almost blushing, the woman was at a loss for words. She looked as if she wanted to say ‘thank you,’ but the words she chose were, “Masterful or not, I haven’t made a cent on my work.”
“Does art need to be about money?” he said, as he took a seat next to her.
“Money’s needed to survive.”
“But what of the emotion, and the influence it creates, does that not hold merit?”
“I’d love to say I’ve changed so many lives through my work, but I have these two to feed, and they’re my priority.” She pointed at the two kids that were playing, the same two kids that were in her picture.
“A valid point, though I still do agree with Oscar Wilde’s statement in regards to art.”
“That its reason is ‘simply to create a mood’?”
Alistair grew intrigued. Not only was her superb work, but her matching intellect as well. “What if I told you that I could make that wish of yours a reality?” he said, grinning. “My name is Alistair Harkins and-”
“Wait, what? You’re. . .” she said, gave him another glance and realized why he appeared so familiar at first. “What’s someone like you doing. . . well, here? No. . . no no, I’m sorry. I shouldn’t be speaking that way to you.”
“What do you mean, by here? And why do you need to address me any differently? It’s not like I’m an alien,” he said, laughing.
She hesitated for a moment before she said, “I mean, you’re Alistair Harkins! You aren’t only the most important person in Lexington Canyon, you’re one of the most important people ever! You’ve created hospitals that have treated and basically cured incurable diseases.”
Alistair looked away immediately. His current happiness was cut with the reminder of his loss.
It was then that the woman remembered the article about Alistair’s wife’s mysterious death. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean-”
“No, it’s been six years. . .”
Silence loomed, until her daughter came by and asked, “Mom, who’s he?”
“Tessa!” she snapped, “be a little more respectful. This is-”
“Alistair Harkins,” he said, shaking the girl’s hand, “and it’s quite alright. I’d be curious too if someone was speaking to my mother.”
The woman smiled at Tessa and said, “Play another round with your brother, for just a bit longer, please?”
“Alright,” Tessa said. “Nice to meet you, Mr. Harkins.”
“The pleasure’s mine.”
Tessa dribbled the ball towards her brother, leaving the woman and Alistair to continue.
“I’m sorry, but I haven’t gotten your name yet.”
“Oh, jeez, sorry, I’m Calista Wailer,” she extended her hand to shake Alistair’s.
“A pleasure,” he said, shaking her hand with a firm grip.
“What brings you to the park?” Calista asked.
“I just needed to get out, or so I’ve been told.”
“How old are they, your kids?”
“Max is fourteen, and Tessa’s twelve,” she said, smiling as she watched them. “It’s been hard raising them on my own, but I thank God they’re in my life.”
“Did their father pass away?” Alistair asked.
“Nah. The good-for-nothing loser left years ago. I honestly think it’s for the better.”
Alistair paused for a moment before redirecting the conversation to her children. “They mean the world to you, don’t they?”
“I’d do anything for them.”
“I have two, the same age.” Another pause as they watched the children, but then Alistair asked, “Would you care to join me for dinner tomorrow? You and your children?”
“I. .. . what?”
“If it’s too sudden--”
Normally Calista would not take up a sudden offer from a man, but he wasn’t just any man. “No, I’d love to, I just. . . You’re Alistair Harkins, and I’m--”
“A talented artist that needs to ‘simply create a mood’ for the world.”
She smiled. “You do have a way with words. Okay, dinner tomorrow.”
He returned the smile. “I’ll have my driver take you to my residence. Don’t forget to bring some of your work.” Alistair drew a card from his coat and handed it to Calista. “Call this number and give the address that you would like to be picked up at. I’m looking forward at exhibiting your art. . . and dinner of course.”
He walked without looking back at Calista or her children. Walter better have brought a great meal from his holiday. He pulled his phone from his pocket and made a call.
“Harkins estate.” Walter answered.
“Walter, tomorrow’s a full moon.”
“I’m aware, sir.”
“We will be accompanied by three others, as well as Victor and Lasaile,” said Alistair. “The dining hall, not the balcony.”
“Nothing short of perfection,” Alistair added.
“Like always, sir.”
* * *
Alistair ensured that he was dressed properly for the occasion with a white shirt under his black tie and black coat, matching black slacks, and black leather shoes. Victor matched his father in every way possible, down to the opal cufflinks. Lasaile decided on a crimson dress to compliment her dark red lipstick.
“Now, you two, tonight is very important.” Alistair exclaimed. “I know generally I take these moon filled nights alone, but I decided to not only make you a part of this, but I wanted to extend the welcome to others. Nothing short of your best behavior; do you understand?”
“Yes, father.” The two agreed in unison.
Alistair heard his driver turn around the outdoor fountain before stopping at the front door. “Come, you two.” Alistair said, as he moved his children to their dining table. Alistair took the head of the table, while his children took the seats with their backs towards the windows.
His driver came in, directing Calista, Max, and Tessa to their seats after taking their coats. Calista sat on the opposite end of Alistair, while Tessa sat across from Lasaile, and Max across from Victor. After the three took their seats, Walter made his way towards the kitchen.
Calista was wearing a stunning blue dress with an open back and bare shoulders. Her hair was mostly up, in an elegant tie, apart from two ribbon braided strands in front of her ears. Max was a in a suit that was just a little too large for him to wear. It showed that Calista rushed to find something affordable and appropriate for the evening. Tessa, on the other hand, seemed well prepared in her dazzling black dress.
“Was the ride comfortable?” Alistair asked.
“Probably the nicest thing I’m ever going to ride in,” Calista said.
“Not if you strike it, mom,” Max said.
“Your mother is a talented woman,” Alistair said. “I’m sure she won’t have any trouble reaching Van Gogh’s level of fame.”
Walter walked in with a bottle of merlot in hand. “Would you care for some wine?” he asked Calista, as he pulled the cork from the bottle, then poured Alistair a glass.
“Yes, please. Thank you,” said Calista.
When Walter retired once more in the kitchen, a group of servers came and placed a dish of mozzarella, and tomato pesto tarts.
“Walter goes to Italy for an entire month,” Alistair said. “It’s only a few days that he comes back and has the kitchen prepare meals that he learned while out.”
“This is fantastic,” Tessa said, after taking a bite.
“If you like this, then you’ll be pleased when he brings the main dish.”
The group enjoyed their appetizer well, and within moments of the last one finishing their dish, a group of servers gathered their plates, while another group came in, placing veal shanks and various vegetables in front of them.
“Osso bucco alla Milanese,” Walter said.
“I bet it tastes as good as it looks,” said Alistair. “Well, let’s eat.”
Everyone waited for Alistair to take the first bite before they took theirs. He cut into his shank, watching as the juices pooled from the knife that ripped through the meat. When he took his bite, he could taste the richness and attention that Walter had given the meal. The simmered white wine left nothing shy of bliss in his mouth.
What gave Alistair more satisfaction than the meal was watching his guests enjoy it. It was obvious that they never had a meal quite like this. The table continued to eat, until all had finished. Once done, a group of servers came by and took their plates.
“That was amazing,” Calista said as she cleaned her mouth with a napkin.
“I’ll say,” exclaimed Max. “Do you guys eat like this all the time?”
“My father does, every full moon,” Lasaile said. “This is a special occasion for us as well.”
“Why’s that?” asked Tessa.
“We don’t really have time for many visitors,” said Victor. “With the constant work that we do, it’s rare that we ever have time to do anything besides what is inside the lab.”
“Is there something special about a full moon?” Calista asked.
“I’d rather not discuss that at this moment,” Alistair responded. “I would much rather thank Walter for such a wonderful meal, and discuss a bit of business, if you don’t mind.” He interlocked his fingers and rested his elbows on the table, smiling from behind his hands. “Lasaile, Victor, how about you show Max and Tessa around the house? No reason why we should bore you four.”
“Is that okay, Mom?” Max asked.
“Who am I to say no?” Calista said.
Lasaile and Victor both pushed their chairs back and stood up.
“The garden’s beautiful this time of night,” Lasaile said. “You’ll love it.”
Lasaile lead the three out of the dining room and through the lobby before disappearing down the hall.
Calista smiled, watching as they left.
“Onto business,” said Alistair.
Alistair raised his glass at Calista. Just as she was to reach for her glass, Walter covered her mouth with a towel. Her scream, try as she might, was muted by Walter’s grasp. In attempts to struggle, two more servants came to hold her from moving. They held her, until her body became limp and no longer resisted. Alistair removed himself from the dining table, but before leaving, he said, “Take her to the basement, and, before you go, I’ll have my whiskey.”
“Of course, sir,” Walter said. “It’s already waiting for you, in your library.”
Alistair nodded over his shoulder, then walked out of the dining room.
His time in the study was enough to read several pages of A Sicilian Romance before returning it to the shelf. He looked at the full glass that sat for Victoria before making his way to the basement. He walked down the halls until he reached the darkened stairs that were lit few and far between. The further he descended, the colder it became.
The basement was as cold as a walk-in refrigerator; a perfect temperature to preserve specimens from rotting too quickly. Inside were his two children, in lab coats and surgical masks, with an array of knives and tools on the desk beside them. Against the walls were piles of dismembered bodies, and appendages. Specimens that were still intact were hanging from the ceiling with meat hooks driven through their backs and protruding through their chests. On the floor, between Alistair and his children lay Calista, tied with her arms and legs behind her back.
As Calista regained consciousness, she saw her unconscious children tied to chairs, by the surgical table that was next to Lasaile and Victor. As she tried to scream she felt the stitches that sewed her mouth pull apart. The pain was immense, but she screamed still till part of her lips tore.
“We can’t have her damaging herself further,” Lasaile said as she put on a pair of surgical gloves. “Victor, would you be so kind to sedate her again?”
“With pleasure,” he answered. As he stuck a syringe in her throat. “She’s yours by the way. For the one I damaged last month.”
“Thank you,” she said, “and thank you, father.”
“They’re perfect,” Victor added.
Alistair nodded and then exited the basement.
He returned once more to the balcony, where Walter waited, with a glass of wine in hand. Alistair took the glass, and Walter took his leave.
With a swirl of the wine and the glass to his mouth, Alistair muttered, “. . . No matter what they desire, I too, would do anything for my children.”