Warning: mentions of substance abuse and offensive language
Once a surprise visit from Charline would have been cause to crack open a bottle of whiskey and start pouring - stopping only when the bottle was half empty and his mind blessedly numb with relief - but fatherhood had forced him to rethink his relationship with alcohol, deciding moderation was not something he could accept, Benjamin Adler had abandoned the act of drinking altogether. Smoking, however, proved a trickier vice to vanquish. His hands twitched with need too often and he gave up the attempt within a month. Knowing she would hate it, he pulled out a pack of O’Leary’s cigarettes - a whimsical brand he had discovered being sold by the docks in Cork which promised to bring you the sights of the sea - and lit up with the twirl of his index finger. She sat in the armchair across from him, one of his cats curled up at her feet and a traveling bag resting by her side, with a disgruntled look upon her face, but remained uncharacteristically quiet as he took a long drag from the cigarette. Smoky waves emerged from its burning tip, and they carried with them salty scents and wispy ships chased by schools of fish, as they swirled towards the ceiling.
“Well,” he said, dusting off his German, unable to take the silence a moment longer, “are you going to divulge the reason I am sitting here in my slippers at three in the morning - I’m assuming you didn’t come all this way to have a secret staring contest with me - or should I just saunter back to bed?” He expected a reluctant smile and a snappy comment but instead received a ducked head as his sister began dragging her nails along the edge of the armrest and then, finally, a deep intake of breath as she focused her gaze on the nautical scenes forming above his head. “I’m pregnant,” she said, in a small, strained voice, so unlike her own it unsettled him and he felt his features leap in shock. Quickly, he took another drag of the cigarette and tried to compose himself.
Charline was pregnant.
Benjamin didn’t know how to feel. He knew he should feel overjoyed but this was Charline - she was not known for her nurturing nature - and then there was her current mental condition to consider. She was not glowing - she was not even flickering with joy. “Congratulations,” he said, with false jubilation, tapping the cigarette butt against a crystal ashtray so that he might avoid her gaze lest his insincerity be discovered. “This is great news. I’m sure papa was thrilled, he’s always wanted this for you.”
“I haven’t told him. I haven’t told anyone, well, anyone but you.” He reached across with his free arm and grasped her hand in his. “Charline, what’s wrong? Aren’t you happy?” He heard the fright in his voice and hated it. She looked at him then, for the first time since she’d sat down, and he found his own bright blue eyes staring back at him but where his were soft and watery hers were cold and hard as ice, and when she scoffed at him he found his heart could beat again.
“I prayed for a girl, I don’t believe in praying, praying is for the weak and the entitled, but I did it. I got on my hands and knees and I prayed, can you believe that?” Benjamin said nothing, knowing that to point out the irony of Charline judging anyone’s level of entitlement would not be the most helpful addition at this time, and watched his sister wearily. “And I did it, not because being a woman is fun - it’s exhausting and humiliating at every turn - but at least a little girl would have belonged to me. She would have been mine to mould and shape as I see fit. So imagine my disappointment when I discover it's a boy that’s robbing my body’s resources.”
“I don’t understand - " Benjamin began, before Charline pulled her hand away and swiftly interjected. “No. I suppose you wouldn’t. You hardly ever do.” They sighed in unison and Benjamin stubbed out his cigarette.
“I came here tonight to ask for your help. I will not allow them to have him. I have my jewels and two months allowance but I’m going to need more to get myself settled.” She was standing now although she did not appear much taller, and was cradling a very content cat in her arms, her confidence fully restored following its earlier slump.
“Wait. Slow down. What’s happening here?” Benjamin cried, his head was spinning, he wished he had not put out his cigarette, and looked at the pack of O’Leary’s with longing. “What exactly are you asking me?”
“I’m not giving him to them,” she answered, as though it explained everything. “I refuse and if I’m going to go I have to go now - before they know. They’d never leave me be if they knew.”
All the times she had come to him in tears and in anger, swearing to Merlin that she was done with Marcos, done with the Yorks, done with their father, and done with the whole damn lot of them, but never had either of them really believed it. That’s just what Charline does. She makes a song and dance for a barrel of sympathy and then turns around and goes back to gather enough material on everyone’s failures to circle back and do it all over again. But something was different this time and Benjamin had never been more alarmed.
“You can’t. You know this is madness, don’t you?” He had grown shaky and dragged a hand across his face just so that he might feel anything other than distress. Charline had always been impulsive, and arguably a little unhinged, but a lifetime of surviving her behaviour had not prepared him for this.
"Don't you remember mama?" she countered.
Benjamin did remember their mama. He remembered how she had drank, how she had whored, and how she had died.
"Remember how you adored her until they wouldn't let you anymore?"
Benjamin wanted to say many things. He wanted to say that Charline had been one of many who'd disapproved of his affection for their mother, had supported the forced distancing of his relationship with her, that Charline had never had a decent word to say about the woman until it suddenly aligned with her own needs, but he also that knew she had been a child struggling against her own restrictions, and that the past was best left in the past. He held his tongue but pleaded with his eyes that she step back.
“Please Benjamin - won’t you help me?”
Benjamin turned white as he realised she meant to do it - with or without his assistance. He had never mastered the art of refusal, and when Charline was standing there begging him, he had no choice but to give in. And what was she asking of him really? A bit of financial aid and his silence? She had taken much more before.
Everything was happening so fast, Benjamin’s thoughts had no time to keep up with events, and he found himself on his feet rifling through his desk drawers and pulling out a heavy drawstring bag. “Where will you go?” he said, with quiet hesitation as he handed over the bag of galleons. She gave his arm a gentle squeeze. “It’s best if you don’t know.”
“Right. Yes, of course.” He coughed into his elbow, there was a lump in his throat he could not dislodge. "You always did think you knew best, no talking you around once your mind is set."
She stood on her tiptoes and leaned up kissing his cheek and pulling him into a one armed hug. The cat, squashed between them, let out a muffled meow. "Take care Benjamin,” she whispered softly, and then reached up as though to stroke his ear. "Obliviate."