Inquest - Index   |  chapter 9   |  chapter 11

Chapter 10

Balfour considers what tempts him - and the kids offer their opinion -
but it all comes down to Soraya.


       To go, or not.
       It was not a question Soraya would have much time for her first few days back. Unlike the kids -- and me. But I think we -- this three man minority -- didn't need the time to ponder the pros and contras: we were all convinced, anyway. We wanted to go.
       I'm not sure entirely why. The appeal of deepest, if not quite dankest Eastern Europe was not that great. Without sights to see or history to revisit -- surely de rigueur for any Europe-tour -- it seemed an almost frivolous destination. If one merely meant to holiday, then culture, beaches, or at least closer countryside were more sensible alternatives.
       Despite Soraya's description of a fairly bland and boring place, the kids could still imagine something to it. As they could have if the place had been ... arctic wasteland or a tiny Saharan oasis or a crater on the moon. Tancred and Annabelle could and would imbue any place with all their hopes and wishes (ah, the bliss of youth and ignorance). The farther, the odder, the more out of the way, the better: it left more to the imagination Rystwycz offered the romance and excitement of the distant unknown. It was something different, and it was an escape -- and it was almost real: unlike all their other imagined get-aways, it was in the realm of the reachable.
       I don't think I dreamed as much of escapes, of life lived elsewhere and differently, but it was a similar reaction that swayed me too. Rystwycz was a possible, plausible retreat, a break -- however brief -- from a world that had gotten palling. It was far away from my desk and my authors and my obligations. And, I convinced myself, I did not believe that what Soraya had seen was truly all that it offered.
       Thinking about it I wondered whether it hadn't been wrong to send practical Soraya as scout. Actually seeing it presumably snuffed out any last hope of mind's eye imaginings that might let her envision more to it -- fantasies that the children (and I ?) were able to nurture in abundance

       In my office I fielded phone calls and leafed through my manuscripts and wondered all the while how it came about that I was so eager for any unsettling experience that could free me from this hum and drum that I would embrace so completely even this most unlikely of prospects. My life wasn't boring: it was full, over-full even. My job wasn't too taxing, and allowed me to do much that I enjoyed. We lived comfortably and well. I was enthralled by my children and what was becoming of them. I loved, adored, and admired my wife no end. And still an apparently long-simmering desperation bubbled over, and Rystwycz became something longed for and essential.
       Was it the rut of my professional life I hoped to escape ? I worried that I was, perhaps, so discomfited by Soraya's successes that I might want this only to put us again, if only for a summer, on a level playing-field. I didn't really envy her, but her quick rise and my stalled career inevitably cast some shadow on all our professional dealings, and many of our friendships and relationships with those in the industry. Remotest Rystwycz would offer a respite from that. Was that what I was after ?
       I thought -- I think: No. But I can't be sure.
       I also knew to be careful and not burden Rystwycz with too-high expectations. Fantasies and wishful thinking are all well and good, but ultimately there's only reality to be dealt with, and quite possibly there wasn't really all that much to Rystwycz.

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       "We'd like to go, Dad," Annabelle told me as we walked home from school. "Leaving everything else aside -- whether it's wise or worthwhile or whatnot. We'd like to go."
       Tancred nodded in agreement.
       "And you're telling me this ... ?"
       "To make our position clear," Annabelle said. "To see where you stand and then how to proceed."
       To prepare for Soraya, in other words. "And why do you want to go ?" I asked,
       "Dad !" Annabelle said incredulously. "Why wouldn't we ? We're kids, and though you'd find other fun ways to fill our summer this is far away and mysterious -- and it's the one thing that'll keep the four of us together. If we didn't go, you and Mum wouldn't be able to take more than four weeks off to go somewhere with us, right ? You'd have to work. Rystwycz would keep us together."
       "And you'd like that ?" I wondered. "Your pre-teen independent spirits wouldn't want a bit more room on their own ?"
       Annabelle looked at me wide-eyed, something between hurt and angry. I felt guilty that the cynic in me doubted her sincerity but I couldn't help but think she was manipulating me. I even, sort of, wished she was. (Likely -- too likely -- she wasn't: they're terribly (wonderfully) clingy babes, whatever their intellectual precocity.)
       "We understand," Annabelle continued, a slight chill to her voice, "that it's tougher for you and Mum. That you have to balance things. Work, mainly. But also all the trouble of planning for such a long stay away, and leaving lots of things behind here ..."
       "And not knowing whether there's anything worthwhile over there," Tancred interjected.
       "Right," Annabelle continued. "We know it's a harder decision for you and Mum. And that you have more important things to weigh beyond just whether it's something you'd like to do. But we want you to know that we want to go."
       "Okay," I said.
       They expected more from me. After a few more steps Tancred asked: "So what about you ? What do you want to do ?"
       I didn't want to commit myself, so I offered vaguely: "There are a lot of things to consider. I don't whether we can absent ourselves from work for so long, especially your mother ..."
       "No, Dad," Annabelle interrupted. "What do you want to do ? Leaving aside whether Mum can get away, or whether it is the proper environment to take impressionable young children, and all those other concerns. Just you: what do you want to do ?"
       "If, say," Tancred suggested, "it was only you and there weren't any of us and you could choose."
       "Yes," Annabelle agreed. "Thinking only of yourself."
       "I suppose I would ... be on my way already," I admitted. Which was a bit more than I wanted to admit.
       Tancred and Annabelle nodded, satisfied.
       "But it's not quite that simple," I reminded them.
       "But it does make a difference," Annabelle said. "It is important to know. If it wasn't something you wanted to do, leaving aside everything else for a moment, well that would change things. Then we wouldn't want to consider it very seriously, and we'd tell the London lawyers and we'd think about making different summer plans."
       As we got close to home Tancred finally asked the last question, the one on all our minds: "So where does Mom stand on all this ?"
       None of us wanted to hazard a guess, happier to enjoy our small consensus for the time being.

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       After dinner Tancred and Annabelle presented us with a Rystwycz White Paper, which they must have spent all afternoon preparing. We convened in the living room and the kids made their presentation, acting out in a bit more dramatic form what they had written. Tancred noted each pro, Annabelle countered with each contra, and then each summed up the arguments for and against. There was nothing new, but they presented it nicely and quickly. Morgenstern topped the list, as the kids tried to milk whatever sense of obligation we might have, but there were any number of good, mediocre, and bad reasons why we should go (and a similar, if not quite as convincing number, why we might choose not to).
       Soraya applauded their efforts, then noted: "So we're pushing for a decision, are we ?"
       "If you still need time to see what needs to be done at Oake ampersand etcetera, we understand," Annabelle reassured her. "But we wanted to ... provide an overview of the issues and maybe discuss it ....."
       "Like we told Dad today," Tancred said, "Annabelle and I, we both want to go. Pretty much without reservations. We understand if we can't because of your work or you think it's not worthwhile, but we'd like to go."
       "And I'm inclined ...," I admitted.
       "Are y'a ?" Soraya laughed. "A bit of steamrollering here ? Majority rule ?"
       "No, Mum," Annabelle said, quite upset. "I think we're agreed this requires unumini ... unanimity."
       "Still," Soraya said. "A lot of pressure, if all three of you ....."
       "Don't think of it that way," Tancred suggested.
       "Still," Soraya insisted. "And if you're agreed on unanimous consent, and all three of you have cast your vote, then it all comes down, most undemocratically, to my aye or nay. All power rests here."
       "Since we know you'll judge fairly, taking all relevant considerations into account, we don't have any difficulty with that," Annabelle said, though Tancred's grimace suggested he wasn't entirely convinced.
       "Diplomatically said," Soraya smiled. "Look here," she said, leaning forward, her voice a bit more serious. "From what I saw it was a quite disappointing place, without a whiff of Morgenstern or much of anything else that would tempt any one of us. It's a long time to be far away from home, without offering even the small excuses that foreign travel usually offers: unique sights, usually unavailable comforts, a beach, anything. And while we'd apparently be reimbursed for our troubles, those troubles are considerable. Not that I'd mind being away from work for a summer, but it wouldn't be easy to swing that either.
       "In other words," Soraya said, leaning back again, "there hardly seems any sensible reason to even consider going."
       "Is that your final word ?" Tancred asked.
       "Hardly. I was merely pointing out the obvious. That nothing much speaks for this harebrained idea."
       "I do," Annabelle said quietly. "I speak for it."
       "Me too," Tancred eagerly agreed.
       "Yes, yes," Soraya said, a bit too condescendingly. "Agreed. Acknowledged. And it being Morgenstern's wish it tugs at me too. But I find nothing that convinces me that this would be anything but imprudent. I'm certain that you two -- that all of us -- would be bored out of our minds, and that by going we would miss far more significant opportunities, both professional and personal, to be had here. And that we'd all just be disappointed."
       Annabelle already looked disappointed, her eyes shimmering tearfully. "So you don't think we should go ?" she asked.
       "Of course I don't think we should go. I think it would be foolish to go. It would be arduous and impractical and, really, almost any other option open to us would be preferable. So, if indeed the decision has been left up to me -- as the last voice of reason, the excuse all of you can rely on, the person you can blame -- then I have to make my choice."
       We looked at her expectantly, knowing what had to come, perhaps even relieved that the unrealistic dream was sensibly punctured before things got out of hand.
       "The choice," Soraya said, "is, unfortunately clear. Really, we might think there are arguments for going, but all the solid arguments are clearly, overwhelmingly against it. As a responsible parent, and with significant professional obligations, I should have to decline Morgenstern's offer. Nevertheless, in light of, and despite all the evidence and the contrary, I say: we go."
       That didn't really register with us.
       "We - Go," Soraya repeated.
       "But ...," Tancred stuttered, "conventional wisdom and no good reasons for and and ..."
       "Mind you," Soraya said, "I don't know ... I don't even think this is a good decision. But if you leave it up to me, so say I. Not for any convincing reason, good or bad, but just because it's hard to pass up, and there is that glimmer of Morgensternian hope, and I can even somehow convince myself that a brief detour on the professional fast-track wouldn't be the worst thing."

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