The Shape of Us: 06 Quack

Abernathy Primrose stood at the large marble sink scrubbing strawberry jelly off an antique vase. This wasn’t the natural home for preserves, he noted, but after the row that caused the sweet concoction to be hurled across a kitchen, he was pleased that the majority of it hit a smooth surface. He was doubly pleased that their glass container had succumbed to gravity just before reaching the porcelain decoration. The yelling had ended and a thick tension filled the downstairs of the old Victorian house. Young Sykes had retired to a makeshift office near the front and Baron went for a run on the property. To cool off, he’d said, pulling open the French doors and dropping his pajamas. 

“It is not very cool out, young sir. Shall I prepare some water for your return?” Primrose had asked.

The young man stood there, naked and tense. Primrose expected a snap, perhaps a sharp rebuke, but he noticed that Baron had matured quite a bit in the time since his last proper visit. His anger, when flared, would normally be directed outward, broadcast widely like an old radio show. But this Baron was targeted in his frustration and Primrose only received an amiable nod before running off. 

Primrose turned away just before the young man’s transformation, which etiquette required. His family has served the Sykes for generations and the first thing a young Primrose learns is decorum.

He finished cleaning the vase and set it near the window, allowing the warm air to dry it gradually so as not to shock the material. He was glad that Young Sykes had decided against installing central air, allowing the design of the building to move cool air from one place to another. The turrets, and Primrose was never sure how many there were, for they always seemed to change, pulled hot air up and allowed the first floor to remain in the comfortable range. Of course that meant moving to one floor living in the summer, but these two men never strayed far apart at any time of year. He looked up as a team of ducks launched themselves from the pond. Something must have startled them.

Balancing a tray of iced tea on one hand, Primrose slid open the wooden door to the parlor. Young Sykes sat at the window, his back to his desk. The room faced the street, but Primrose suspected that he was hoping to catch a glimpse of the Doberman running through the yard. “Young Sir, would you like some tea?”

“Your dedication pisses me off,” he said, not turning around.

“Yes sir. It is my greatest attribute.”

“Why can’t you call me by my given name? You practically raised me Primrose.”

Primrose smiled and lay the tray on his side of the desk. “Should you call me Abernathy, sir?”

Sykes spun in his chair, his mouth open. “That would be,” he hesitated, fighting against his rearing in a house of nobility. Some conventions made for formidable barriers. “That would be strange.”

“Young Sir,” Primrose said, purposefully. “I will try to refrain from addressing you directly, but please do not try to dictate the protocols of my vocation.”

Sykes nodded once, ceding to the better man. He changed the subject. “He’s out running?”

“Oh yes. I dare say the ducks may stay away for a while.”

Sykes huffed. “The ducks aren’t anymore scared of him than I am.” He turned back to the window. “He agrees with you. He should be on my side.”

Primrose smiled. He clasped his hands behind his back and planted his feet a bit apart, readying his old back for an extended conversation. “He both agrees with me and is on your side. You just refuse to see it.”

The letter lay open on the desk, the red wax broken crumbled in pieces. It wasn’t due to the low quality of the wax, Primrose was sure since he sourced it himself, but the sheer amount of force used to break it. After seven years, curiosity had transformed into a passive wonder about the specific phrasing, though the contents were, of course, known to him. He glanced briefly at his master’s lazy scrawl and picked out the phrase “your duties as a son of the shield” and smiled. A brown shape flashed through the scene outside, lean and free, as if it were scorching a path in the manicured lawn. Young Sykes’s head followed the movement, compelled. Primrose sighed.

He walked out, quietly closing the door. He made for the back porch, hoping to smoke a bit on his pipe before Young Baron returned. Stopping in the kitchen, he grabbed a large glass bowl and filled it with water from the tap. Outside, he placed the bowl and a fluffly towel at the edge of the patio, just out of his line of sight. Thin clouds stretched over the valley, dampening the sun and filling the gardens with a dull light that softened the colors. The traditional flower garden of the Victorian mansion had been replaced with grassy mounds and a variety of dirt patches, the latter created so particularly to look like sand traps in a golf course. Each one was edged with a low growth of hosta plants, but nothing substantial was allowed to grow in the patch itself. Primrose noticed how similar they were to the patches in Scotland, on the home property. Geography, he thought, was far too weak a force to disconnect such strong ties. He heard barking coming from the side of the patio. He instinctively turned his face away. 

Baron approached moments later, wiping water from his chin and wrapping the towel around his waist. “Thanks Primmy,” he said, flopping into a chair across from him. “I feel better now.”

Primrose nodded. “I dare say those ducks feel differently.”

“Ha! Did you see them?” He spread his arms wide and flapped. “I love how they sound when they’re spooked.” He leaned back, satisfied. 

Primrose puffed on his pipe, enjoying the light breeze. It blew the scent of honeysuckles from the neighbor’s yard without chilling him. Baron looked like a privileged young man, sunning himself without a care in the world. Primrose knew the story was far more complicated than that and the more he got to know Baron, the more he hoped Young Sykes understood how lucky he was. They sat in silence for a while, Primrose waiting for the question Baron needed to ask. 

Baron surprised him. “I’ll make sure he goes.”

Primrose grabbed his pipe, readying a response, but Baron’s statement meant one wasn’t needed. The young man appeared to understand enough of the situation that he didn’t need reassurance. Primrose was impressed and a little disappointed. He’d been preparing his speech for seven years. He looked up to find the young man staring back at him.

“Tell them I’ll bring him back,” Baron said.

He stood and to Primrose he stood taller than before, no longer a young man of leisure, living at the pleasure of Young Sykes, but a man who understood responsibilities that he had no business understanding. As he walked past, the man put a hand on his shoulder, a touch of such confidence that Primrose wondered if America had its own nobility. “You stay until then. I hate packing.”

He heard the door open and shut. Moments later, Baron’s lazy voice returned, echoing “Idiioooooooooot!” throughout the house. More words were exchanged, some angry, some quieter, but within the hour Young Sykes had stepped onto the patio. Primrose rose immediately and bowed. He noticed that this time, Young Sykes did not flinch at his deference. “Tell the house we’ll be there in a week.”

“Yes, young sir.”

A cloud of musk surrounded them as Baron appeared at the door. “Primmy, let’s do a cookout tonight.”

Primrose smiled, “certainly, young sirs.”

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