Unfortunately favored

Unfortunately favored
Fortune may, sometimes, favor the bold. On occasion, it may even favor the bold with a fortune.

Fortune may, sometimes, favor the bold. On occasion, it may even favor the bold with a fortune. More often, other things happen; things less favorably fortunate for all concerned. This is not cynicism, just an uncomfortable truth. The truth is simply this: the world, or life, or the universe, is fairly neutral on how things work out for ‘us’ mere mortals. Probably, there isn’t that much concern for how it works out for immortals, either.This should not make us gloomy. There are  many exquisite adventures to be had out of fortune’s failure. Some of these adventures might even include an unnecessary amount of marginally average word-play, for example. (Not the best ones, perhaps, but it is one possible direction that could be considered. It is certainly the least expensive.) In my own opinion, many of the best stories start with a failure, or hardship, of some sort. Sometimes, they even detail the course of those things as they happen – with a judicious use of flash-backs to give the whole thing a narrative ‘freshness’. To the best of my knowledge, no prize-winning novel ever began with the sentence: “And they lived happily ever after, with nothing of consequence filling the rest of their days.” (On reflection, and now that I see it typed out, perhaps one should start that way. Say, do you think I should write that story?)

Just as stories that detail tribulations are more interesting to me, so too are real people with anecdotes possessing similar qualities. This is not because I enjoy the suffering of others. I most assuredly do not derive pleasure that way (although I have met people I suspect may). It does not make me feel good to know that other people have it much worse than I do. Alas, I am rather too compassionate for my own good, and my sense of empathy can bring me to dewy-eyed sadness whenever I hear such accounts. (Really good writing has also been known to produce this emotional response. Which is embarrassing if you’re reading a book in public. Especially if that book turns out to be a fantasy novel.) It is more that people who relate these kinds of stories tend, on balance, to be better storytellers. At least, in my experience.Take, for instance, Taryn Glastonleaf.

I first met Taryn about a year ago, when we were both attending a book launch at Charted Nowhere Gallery and Bookstore. I was perusing the shelves, looking for the titles I would buy – had I the money – when I accidentally walked into her. After making my apologies, graciously accepted, we got to chatting. Small talk, mostly: the weather, local sporting teams, how it’s really hard to find different tea blends in our neck of the jungle.

At a certain point, the small talk began to tail off, having exhausted itself with a particularly insightful discussion on the benefits of Earl Grey. As we lapsed into an awkward silence, Taryn looked around. Her gaze swept over the other locals gathered for the occasion; it was a gaze that seemed very focused. Then she said: “I really love these things.”

I was surprised by this comment. Most of my other interactions that evening had expressed opinions of an altogether antithetical nature. Among the most common of opinions expressed were things like, “these events are so pretentious,” and “I read the book in draft; complete garbage.” They were so common, in fact, that I had trouble understanding how it was that so many people had turned up. (I also wondered how it came to pass that so many people had read the book in draft.) I even voiced this confusion to one attendees, just to see if he had any ideas as to how to resolve it. “I can’t speak for the others,” he had said, “mostly I just came for the free drinks.”

Perhaps, I thought, Taryn was also here for beverage related reasons, so I said “I rather enjoy these things too, especially the free drinks. And the finger food, that’s pretty good too, right?”

“Well, yes,” she had replied in a slow and measured way, “but that’s not why I love them.”

“It’s not?” I asked, following up with, “Is it because of the paintings and general presence of books, then? Because, you can come and see them anytime; they’re pretty much the reason this place exists.”

Taryn laughed at this – a deep, genuine laugh that started in the belly and resonated outward. I was concerned that she thought I was trying to be charming, so I outlined my confusion about her view as compared with those I had been hearing from other guests.

“I know Arthur, I get the sense that you are not one given to acts of contrived charm. But what you have missed, is that all these people – especially the ones complaining – are actually having a really great time. It’s a game, one they all play together, and where the sorts of comments you have been hearing are integral. Later, as with any other game, some of the guests here will get together over a drink and discuss the event. Each will go over who said what to whom, what they said to others, and what they should have said. They will also, after a fashion, analyze how this fits into the world they are all, in a sense, collectively creating. This is pretty much how adults ‘play’, just as they would have as children, but dressed up in sophisticated adult clothing. It has to be dressed up this way because, as every child comes to learn, being an adult is a very serious business. To be an adult and play childishly breaks the rules of being ‘grown up’. Yet, the need to play never really leaves us.

“Just as I enjoyed watching my own child play, so too do I enjoy watching adults play in their own style. It fills me with something like optimism. This is chiefly because I have, in the course of my life, been in situations where there was no opportunity for it; not in this way, at least. It is a simple joy. One all too often neglected, but easily found.”

“Huh?” I asked, intelligently.

Taryn laughed in the same easy manner as before. “I know, it’s hard for people to understand. Perhaps it would help If I told you something about my life?”

I agreed that this might help, and enthusiastically encouraged her to tell her story. And so she did, an account of which I shall now give; albeit in a less skillful way than she related it to me. Here, then, is The Tale of Taryn Glastonleaf:

While Taryn’s father had started his life as a poor man, he eventually managed to grow a successful antiques business. In time, this became an extremely successful auction house. Her mother, a woman of high intelligence, had been an engineer. A really good engineer, and during her career had secured many lucrative patents. Between the two of them, they managed to become very wealthy, and so Taryn and her twin sister Eloise had grown up in some privilege.

In addition to living in a house that was palatial by most standards, the family traveled together a great deal. The travel was mostly because of Taryn’s father’s belief that it would prepare his daughters for life in ways that would prove useful to them. (Taryn believes, however, that not having had the opportunity for travel when he was young, her father ascribed something like mystical powers to it.) For Taryn and her sister, childhood was a happy experience, and they grew up feeling very loved.

But, not long after Taryn and Eloise had turned seventeen, both their parents were in a very serious car accident. Their mother had died instantly, but their father had languished in a coma for many weeks. Eventually, after it was clear that he would not recover, and as per the wishes outlined in his living will, he was taken off life support.

Although the family fortune had been slightly diminished as a result of hospital bills, and a hefty inheritance tax, the two girls were still well provided for. But not yet being of an age to inherit, all monies were held in trust to be safeguarded by their maternal uncle; their favorite uncle, as it happened.

Rather than have the girls move in with him, the uncle moved to live with them. He felt – given the tragedy the twins had suffered – this would be the least traumatic for them. This turned out to be true, and all were very happy for a time.

While he was a very kind man, Taryn’s uncle was also a greatly imprudent and intemperate one. Just as the twins were poised to turn twenty-one, he managed to get himself killed in a bar fight. This was tragic enough, but it also transpired that he had managed to get himself into serious debt. A debt he had created by using the Glastonleaf estate as collateral, including all royalties due from his sister’s patents.

Once again the girls found themselves ‘orphaned’ – for he had been their favorite uncle, and, for all his faults, they loved him. Only the big house was left to them once all his debts had been discharged, although it was a house they could ill afford to maintain. Both agreed that the most sensible course of action was to sell the old family residence; which is what they did.

With the proceeds from the sale, they bought a smaller house in town, and used the rest to start a small business. As they had inherited their father’s love of antiques, and their mother’s love of mechanical things, this business involved the acquisition, restoration, and sale of antique bicycles. A business in which they thrived.

As the business grew, the twins needed help, and so they hired a young man to help out. A handsome man, a humble man, a man called David. Moreover, David was a man with whom Taryn fell in love, as did he with her.

While neither Taryn or David particularly wanted to get married, they did see themselves building a life together. Being progressive in these matters, they duly set up a household, and Taryn then quickly became pregnant. Soon, a son arrived, and by family tradition, was named for his father. As Taryn described those days to me: “We were so happy in that life, you could pick almost any cliche to describe it, and it would still fall short.”

But not long after David Jr. turned six, a sickness started to sweep the town. It came on slowly at first, and seemed only to affect the elderly. Flu like in nature, no one was that concerned, initially – even when a few of the ill started to die. They were old after all, it’s sad, but this sort of thing happens.

Then younger, healthier, and more vigorous people started to fall victim to this strange malady. By the time it had run its course, fully one-third of the town’s population had succumbed. Among these ‘unfortunates’ – as they came to be called later – were Eloise, and Taryn’s great love, David.

It was a hard blow, and Taryn descended into a despair so profound she thought she could never find another moment’s joy. She did what she could to keep above it, but the business she had built with her sister began to fail.

As her life progressively fell apart, it chanced that an old friend of her father’s came to hear of her situation. She remembered this friend as ‘uncle Mike’, and he had been her father’s assistant for many years. Since that time, he had become wealthy in his own right; a situation he credited to her father’s patient tutelage.

‘Uncle Mike’ was genuinely concerned for her welfare, and he felt it unhealthy for her to linger in a place so heavy with tragedy. Which is why he offered to buy-out her business at a price, Taryn thought, that was much more than it was worth; especially given its recent decline. She told him as much, but she promised to give it some consideration.

At first she didn’t think she could sell; despite the generous offer. After all, it had become her life’s work, and had been her sister’s life’s work too. It’s how she had met David, and all three of them had poured everything into it. It was a lot to give up.

But, while watching her son play through a window, it struck her how much he moved like his grandfather – a clumsy man, in truth. She remembered also, the seemingly irrational powers he ascribed to travel. What if there was something in what he had said? It couldn’t hurt, and she had never even taken David Jr. on so much as a camping trip. If she sold, maybe the two of them could travel around a little – just wander – for the fun of it. For a while, anyway.

And so it was that Taryn Glastonleaf and her young son eventually stumbled on a young city. A city of eccentric characters, strange dinner parties, and bald women. To her amazement, she fell in love again, but with a place; this place, this city.

With what was left from the sale of her previous business, Taryn brought a small two-story building. She converted the upstairs into living space, and, on the ground floor, opened a bicycle repair shop. Nothing fancy, but something she enjoyed, and that helped her to raise her son (who is now preparing to go to university and study history). On Sundays, she and David Jr. restore antique bicycles together. She talks of her family, and his father.

When Taryn had finished telling me this story, she looked at me in a neutral sort of way. It was the kind of look someone might give if they’d just rattled off a grocery list – a really boring one, with bleach in it – and not the tale I had just heard.

After brief pause she asked: “Arthur … are you okay? Only it looks like you’re about to cry.”

“What? No, I’m fine. Bug flew up nose is all; made my eyes water a bit.”

“Good,” she said, but not really sounding that convinced. “Because, although there is a lot of misfortune in that story, there are things that make me feel fortunate too.”

“Are you sure? Because that sounds really unfortunate to me.”

Taryn laughed, again. And again it struck me how truly light this laughter sounded.

“Yes. For among all of those really dark moments were some really bright ones. The bright ones weren’t even that spectacular, either. They were mundane things. The clumsiness of my father, my mother’s intelligence, My uncle’s kindness, and how my sister and I were really ‘playing’ together in that business. As I reflect back on it, and perhaps because of what has happened, I find I can truly enjoy my life that much more. Life, so it seems to me now, is all about those small moments, and so I look for them everywhere. It’s why I really love watching the silliness of adults playing … well, playing at being adults at things like a book launch. I know, it probably still doesn’t make sense, but I do feel ‘unfortunately favored’ in that way.”

The next morning, as I drank my coffee, I thought more about Taryn’s story, and how she felt about being unfortunately favored. I thought about my own failures, and some cruel twists of chance. I still can’t claim that I really fully understand what she meant. But I think I’m starting to get it. Because now, when I think about that cup of coffee – the one I had the morning after hearing Taryn’s tale – I remember this: that it was really good.


Source: Wikimedia Commons.

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