Chapter II: The Second Return of Ricard Romakin
Fordham was now a bustling trade centre, having marketed its country ways and small town feel to the few traders that passed through each year. More and more merchants would come through, and eventually a few would stay to sell to other travellers, eventually renting small buildings, purchasing property, and expanding the borders of the town to accommodate housing and a new small marketplace. There wasn’t very much resistance to this by the town-folk (excepting Reverend Yaris and his wife, whose misoneism was palpable from a mile away), for there was more to gossip about now.
There came a day when Iseult and I went to town together on a fine Sunday afternoon, dressed as though we had gone to church (which we certainly had not and never did, although in some ways I do regret this now), and wandered about the marketplace, enjoying a coffee here at the corner shop, watching the people pass by, merchants selling wares, children running about the street, old couples window-shopping in their stingy way. It was on this day, exactly one week and two days before our anniversary, that we became reacquainted with our dear friend and old school-teacher Mr. Ricard Romakin.
There we sat, sipping our coffee and taking in the sun, and as we watched, across the way, the hunched form and unsteady pace of the old man with the young man’s eyes passed before our vision. He was unaccompanied, and glanced about himself anxiously as he moved between the vendors, making his way west toward the edge of the square.
‘Why, William,’ Iseult said to me, ‘Isn’t that our old teacher, Mr. Romakin?’
I looked and found it to be true, ‘Iseult, my dear, I believe you are right!’ I hailed him from where we sat, catching his eye and waving him over. ‘How many years has it been? I thought he had moved away or passed from this world into death.’
‘I thought so as well,’ said my wife, ‘In fact, I think I told you he had passed. I overheard Georgina and Lily at the market some months back while shopping for a new dagger (my old one had been irreparably damaged, you recall; that hard-boned cretin that set upon us in that ravine?). Lily said to the other, “Did you hear about poor Ricard? Passed in his sleep, too much of his tonic. I would wager fifteen midas it was his parents did it on purpose. Never liked the creature that came back from his ‘godly’ mission.” I even think,’ she continued, now at a whisper as Romakin approached, ‘they spoke about his disappearance before our time, information they gathered from their parents…’ The old man was far too close to continue this speech aloud.
‘Hullo there, Mr. Romakin,’ I saluted him with the removal of my hat, rising from my seat and offering it to him. He refused with the wave of a hand and an almost imperceptible shake of his head. I propped myself against the back of Iseult’s chair, ‘How are you this fine Sunday, sir?’
In the final two years of our schooling, Mr. Romakin had developed a system of signing with which he was able to communicate with many of the older inhabitants of Fordham. I was among them—as was Iseult—and we understood his meaning at once, though his hands flourished quite rapidly. It came across like a stuttering telegram: ‘Fine day. Busy. I greet you both. Must be off. Goodbye.’ With a final wave of his hand, he set off quickly to the west, wandering down a side street and out of sight.
‘Well,’ I began, ‘that was odd.’
Iseult was gazing in the direction he had gone, ‘I agree.’ Her eyes followed his route backwards, watching the path to where it disappeared at the east end of the market. ‘Darling, I’ll be back momentarily.’ She arose and departed, giving chase to some idea that had presently leapt from her brain and beckoned her to follow.
‘Alright, dear,’ I called after her. ‘I’ll just—be here then.’ I chuckled gently under my breath, reminding myself how very lucky of a man I was, and returned to my coffee and meditation.
It was approximately three o’clock—Rook’s Hour we called it in those days, though the reason why quite escapes me now—when Iseult bounded up to me as I chatted with my dear friend, Laura, outside of Redman’s Curios shoppe. She was just beginning on a wearisome history of her (mostly unsuccessful) seductions of many a respectable gentleman (both local and vagrant), when my wife appeared at my side, causing my heart to leap into my throat at the suddenness of her arrival. ‘Hello,’ she spoke breathily into my ear. Laura was still speaking loudly, and not looking at me anymore, but at the strangers who could clearly overhear her detailed accounts of her sexual escapades and were glancing disapprovingly at our little trio.
I turned to Iseult, ‘Hello, darling.’
‘Let’s go home.’
We left Laura chittering to her transient audience, and moved swiftly away from the rabble and onto the road towards home. Once we had gone a ways, Iseult spoke, ‘He was dead.’
I made an amused face to cover my confusion, ‘What?’
‘He was dead. I checked at Borne.’
‘And Faust said…what exactly?’
Iseult looked at me seriously, ‘What do you think?’
A heavy breath escaped my lips, ‘I think that you’re about to tell me.’
‘I did just tell you, darling,’ she continued, ‘It’s alright, I know you aren’t the brightest.’
I should clarify this point further. Iseult, you see, had spent some years working at the morgue as an autopsy assistant, and it was her close friend, Dr. Faust, who still kept a tidy ship when she departed. Borne was the name of the street upon which the morgue was built. It had been an old home that caught fire at the end of the last century, and Dr. Faust rebuilt and renovated it to become an all-service funeral home. After the fire, along with a variety of ghostly encounters, no one wished to live on that road. And so, Dr. Faust’s funeral home was all that remained, and was affectionately referred to as Borne by most of Fordham. I always found a simple irony in the name, and in the fact that the folk who initially started calling it Borne didn’t themselves recognize the irony.
I chuckled narrowly, ‘Alright, so he said that Romakin had died. Surely that was a mistake though.’
Iseult shook her head rapidly, ‘No, no mistake. I double checked, read the record myself. Romakin overdosed on mercury (which he was taking for aphasia at the behest of his foolish mother, who had in turn acquired it to treat her own melancholy) in his family home and was taken to Borne in the middle of the night, where Dr. Faust performed the autopsy.’ As she spoke, her voice grew both softer and more excited, ‘He was identified three times over and a death certificate scribed. And,’ here her voice was so quiet I had to strain to hear it, ‘as you must recall, Romakin came from the east end of the market. Upon further inquiry, I discovered that Renée Dollinger and Silas Duncan saw him arrive in the square from the south road; that is, from Union Avenue.’
I took her meaning at once, but did not respond with the excitement she clearly anticipated. Union Avenue was the road to the largest local cemetery, located directly behind the church. She watched my face, but I painted it with scepticism and replied, ‘Surely there was some mistake. The man was alive and well when we saw him. A little skittish perhaps, but by no means did he appear to have been recently deceased.’
‘He thought someone was after him.’
‘Well, that may be,’ I admitted. ‘He was acting rather strangely.’
‘He was acting,’ continued Iseult, ‘like he had just escaped the grave and was fleeing from the shadow of Death.’
Here I laughed aloud, ‘You were ever the more romantic of us two, darling. I do believe you’ve read some profound fantasy into our little town of Fordham.’
Her face became red and she stopped walking, ‘Don’t be an ass, and don’t patronise me. I told you exactly what I learned. What did you learn by speaking with that dilly-dally, Laura?’
‘Well, I learned that Theo Munson has some trouble with the use of his most delicate member when it matters most. Particularly while—’
‘Oh, shut up for a moment!’
‘Listen to me,’ began Iseult, ‘We must find Romakin and speak with him. I trust Dr. Faust, but I also trust my own senses. Clearly the man we saw today is not dead, but a man who either is Romakin, or who looked exactly like him, is certainly dead and was interred some months ago. Now I went to the cemetery—’
Now it was my turn to cut her off, ‘Good God, my dear, tell me you didn’t dig up a grave!’
‘Of course I didn’t dig up the grave; it would be foolishness in broad daylight.’ Her face was deadly serious. ‘But I found the gravestone – Ricard Romakin; born Dec. 15th, 1894; died Mar. 15th, 1930 – that’s why we didn’t know about his death, we were away in Leed that whole week for our birthday. And when we returned, it was still bustling with the spring market and the caravans, so his death was buried under the more present and interesting conversation of wares. So, no one really paid attention but his family, and apparently the man himself, who walked the street of Fordham this very day.’
I considered this for a moment. ‘Died on our very birthday. Strange coincidence.’ Iseult was looking at me meaningfully and we began to stride forth once more at a leisurely pace. ‘I suppose they’ll have to update his tombstone – died Mar. 15th; revived Sept. 14th.’
Iseult’s eyes widened and she nodded encouragingly.