the secret history. charles/camilla. r. charles spends the years after their separation, studying social anthropology from bar stools and learning to paint the letters of his sister’s name onto the skin of other women with his tongue. 2300 words. for martyr4mylove4u as our official start of incest'11.
He could swear he did not look back, could not—by any optical chance, or in any prism—have seen her physically as he walked away; and yet, with dreadful distinction, he retained forever a composite picture of her standing where he left her. The picture...penetrated him, through an eye in the back of his head, through his vitreous spinal canal, and could never be lived down, never.
(ADA OR ARDOR - vladimir nabokov)
She was born first.
It was only a measure of minutes. Her head slipped out, then the shoulders, body legs and she was there in the world before he was.
She didn’t start breathing till he was born. She opened her lungs and screamed.
Charles spends the years after their separation, studying social anthropology from bar stools and learning to paint the letters of his sister’s name onto the skin of other women with his tongue.
“What about the married woman?” breathes Camilla, her old heavy voice is smoky and distant in his head.
The room is spinning. His tongue feels thick and coated, tastes burning when he taps it to the roof his mouth.
He thinks he is in the bathroom at this point, of whichever bar he has been drinking in but he opens his eyes, halfway, the sting forcing the lids to squeeze back together again and he sees a blur of dark colours, of warm, soft fabrics pressing into the back of his neck and oh, it must be the coat room and there is his sister, his sister leaning on the arm of a fur, her thin figure silhouetted against the door.
“Figment of your imagination, love.”
He coughs. There is some blood spattering against the collar.
“I have no imagination. None at all,” her lips are a singular red shape in the dark. “You’re a liar, Charles. A liar and a drunk”
Her voice cracks over the last word and then she is gone.
Camilla is twenty six years old when her grandmother dies.
It happens in the morning, in the early, cold hours of dawn and the hospital room is coloured with the violent white of death and she thinks she forgets how to breathe. Her heart punches out a beat, the telephone poised between her hands as the nurses fill the room.
She sits there for a life time, year after year swimming past her, like fishes in the sea. She builds speech after speech in her head. Our grandmother, your gran - Charles -
Her fingers still over the buttons. She will ask a doctor to make the call.
They did a terrible job of separating their things.
It wasn’t very much like an ordinary split; there are no specific rules for how to go about leaving your brother, your lover and still, years after she has been gone there are dresses hanging in the closet, soft woolen sweaters with the faint lingering perfume. They had always been somewhat in the habit of wearing each other’s clothes indiscriminately, especially when they were younger. It had cut down a bit when they got to university; he remembers Bunny frowning when Camilla wore one of his shirts to class, a simple grey one, slipped over her skirt, rolled up to show pale skinny elbows. She never said anything, even later when they were home, shoulders aligned as they lay on a pile of quilts in their bed but she stuck to her own clothes after that, at least when they were on campus.
(He remembers their first night in the apartment after Bunny died, Camilla’s red rimmed eyes and small bones wrapped in his sweater and the way her mouth looked like it was stained with blood.)
He does not go to the funeral.
Later, he tells himself that his sister wore white, that she did not wear black. It is summer and he thinks her dress would have been a thin wisp of cotton, settling around her waist in gathers and he thinks she probably didn’t cry but her eyes were swollen and tired and she was distant and everyone who spoke to her thought she was cold, her voice rising as if from a dream and she did cry, a little when they lowered the body but that was more out of politeness than anything else.
He tells himself her hair no longer yellow in the sun. That it’s grown darker with age to match his own, that her face has taken on the sharpness of age and that the circles around her mouth and nose have deepened and that -
And that her eyes alone stay the same.
They have separate rooms in the country house.
Francis says the largest one is Camilla’s, the one in the corner with blue paneled windows and lace curtains. He does a little bow as he leads her to it and she doesn’t say a word, just takes the key and steps in with her neck held up, shooting him a warning look over her shoulder.
“You won’t miss me, darling?” he whispers, hand warm at her elbow. They are sitting around the table at dinner. Someone has lit candles.
His lips brush over the shell of her ear; she shivers. Across the table, Bunny is trying to persuade Henry to play chess with him after dinner, a kind of training session. Henry doesn’t seem to be listening. He pushes his glasses up his nose and smiles at her.
“Come on, now,” he continues, “How are you ever going to get so sleep tonight without me there?”
She swallows a laugh. Something about his choice of words conjures up an image of him singing her a lullaby as she rocks on his knee.
“I think I’ll be alright.”
“Well.” He draws back, taps his spoon against his plate. “If you’re sure.”
Her face flushes. She will blame the wine.
(She ends up sneaking into his room later that night, nails scraping against the door like a cat demanding to be let in and he’d been half asleep, half waking, her warm body following the heat of his to the bed, breath caught fast between their teeth in an attempt to be quiet. They fell asleep, with him still inside her, limbs tangled together under the sheets.)
“This is all your fault.”
They are not in the bar anymore, not in the cloak room. He is lying on a bed, his arms and legs stretched out in the shape of a star, pulling out at all corners, sheets cold beneath him. She is somewhere in the shadows, where they always meet these days.
He thinks it’s a hotel, maybe.
“Yes.” He tries to lean up on his elbows, hands scrambling for purchase against the bed - the quilt wrinkles under his weight. “Its - if you hadn’t taken up with Henry or anything we wouldn’t be in this situation.”
“That’s all you’re going to say?” His mouth slips, a little.
“What do you want me to say? I’m not going to apologize for being with Henry, I’m not sorry about it.”
“So, you love him more than me.”
“Oh, Charles.” She sounds pitying, a little cruel in the way his sister never really managed to be before - his head swims, her figure is a long grey blur in the dark, gold halo of her hair fading, “You’re a mess, aren’t you?”
“Is a rhetorical question?”
He sits up.
The mirror shows blood shot eyes and hollow cheeks that no longer look like his sisters.
There was no starting point, really, not for them. It was an almost natural progression; they were children and then they weren’t and their bodies moved into each other before they really knew how or what they were doing, he remembers sun soaked skin and grass stained clothes at the end of the bed and Camilla’s face twisting like that for the first time, her legs spreading under his hands and how impossible it was tell where one of them started and the other began, limbs and hair and skin skin skin.
The others - her boys and his women - that did not start till much later.
At the beginning of it all, it was only them.
He wonders sometimes, if Henry hadn’t died what exactly would have happened, how it would have all panned out.
Maybe they’d have gotten married. Camilla’s mouth beneath a veil. He thinks of getting drunk at their wedding and being dragged to his bed by Francis and Richard and maybe Francis wouldn’t have left till the morning, he thinks of matching rings on their fingers, dull gold in the light and they would visit him, of course, after the honeymoon and in his sitting room would be small and cramped and Henry’s legs would stretch out from the sofa, he would push his glasses up his nose and Camilla would pretend to not notice the woman’s dress on the arm of a dining chair or the faint smell of perfume mixed with alcohol in the room.
They would have a house in the country, much like Francis’ aunt, maybe the same one. Henry would teach. Camilla might too. They would probably be very successful, Henry would take up Julian’s mantle and Camilla might switch to English instead (she always preferred novels) and later, not too soon they might have children, small red creatures with blonde hair and large, bewildered eyes and Camilla’s eyes would grow round and tired to match theirs and he sees her leaning over the babies, fingers spread wide over the cradle and they would look nothing like Henry, he knows, they would look like him, like him and Camilla -
Charles grows into a lot of useless time. More than youth could afford.
Still the hotel room. He thinks he has just woken up.
“You’ve ruined me.”
There’s a slight grin, curling up the corners of his lips as he says it. Hers stay firmly down.
“Don’t be melodramatic.”
“I’m not being melodramatic.”
Her mouth shifts to the side, her body following it. There is a shot of light between her fingers as she lifts them, pushes hair out of her face. Her hands tremble a little.
“You want me to fight with you,” she says, sounding quiet and a little far away, “You want me to say that it wasn’t my fault, that it was yours. You want me to say I was jealous of every woman you ever spent the night with and that you were drunk all the time and that I hated it and that’s why I chose Henry, that’s why I left. You want me to bite back, don’t you?”
“I - “
She laughs. Her head falls back and the picture swims and he is not looking at her but at the back of her head in the gold framed mirror and it burns a little against the glass and he concentrates on that and not on her face. Her face is a dark spot and everything behind it is bright.
“I’m not taking the bait, darling.”
(There is something about the way that word is pronounced that doesn’t sound like her.)
She leans forward, hair swinging over her shoulders. She brings her face close to his.
“You don’t look particularly ruined, anyway.”
She picks a corner of his collar between her fingers.
“Just a little rough around the edges.”
His body shakes into the cough, bones rattling around in his frame. “Don’t be cruel.”
“What about your married woman?” she asks again.
“That was - “ he chokes on a laugh, “That was in another country and besides the wench is dead.”
She is gone after that. The last thing that he sees is her hand reaching forward to touch his face, “that’s very funny” she says, her voice sounds like it is coming from a deep well and her skin is like his skin, it is warm and rough and not soft like it used to be and it meets his cheek in a motion that is too weak to be a slap and too harsh for a caress and then she is gone, she has dissappeared.
The hotel room bears no trace of her when he wakes up.
When they moved into the apartment, they were happy.
It sounds like a strange sort of statement to make and it certainly wasn’t the only time during the course of their lives together that they were, but it stands out. It was autumn. There were dry leaves in her hair when she lay back on the bed and they made their way over the pillows.
“You smell like leaves, you know.”
“I wasn’t aware they had a particularly abhorrent smell.”
“I’m just pointing out,” he said, leaning over her, picking some out of her hair. “It’s not a particularly neat start to - “
“Charles, stop talking,” she breathed and her lips were on his cheek, his mouth, sliding down to his jaw -
“We have to go to class.”
“No, we don’t.”
No, they didn’t.
The last time he ever sees her is on a street.
She is walking the other way, her hair is up in a bun. It’s a different colour, maybe thinner and the thin line of her neck rises from a warm thick sweater that might once have been his. It goes down to her bare knees and she presses her lips together in a frown, tugs at the end of it. She is across from him.
He sketches a quick wave in the air. Camilla doesn’t see him.
Later, he will tell himself that he couldn’t be sure it was her.