In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.
That's what the florid script said in Latin running along the border of the map of the hemispheres, two conjoined circles surrounded by angels and men gazing proudly at the world within. The senior doctor Blake had translated it for her once. He had purchased the tome, an elegant combination of geography and evangelization, in the hopes that it would prove instructive to his young son whom he feared was going astray. The doctor made no secret that the book had proven useless on that account. The ancient book was older than either of them and perhaps older than Australia itself, but the colors were still vibrant. Its continents, if misshapen and misinformed, still whispered in the languages of far off lands, past and present.
Jean used to browse the leaves often, looking at the well formed maps of Europe, northern Africa, and the ghostly outline of the Americas. She often wondered what life was like there, then and now. She had read the histories with disinterest in her school days but later in life eagerly absorbed the adventures of those few she knew who were able to travel.
Now more often than not Jean found herself gazing at the maps of Asia. The vast lands marked with the names of kingdoms and provinces, cities meticulously placed along rivers - the sort of information a 17th century European merchant would value. The coast lines were accurate in some places, fanciful in others. Many of the names: China, Siam, Borneo, Corea, survived unaltered from the depths of history. Others, Bengala, Indostan, Insulae Phillipine, took very little imagination to guess. Yet other countries, Ainam, regnum Gannam, Brema, Jean could guess only from their approximate location, the names themselves having either been changed or receded into the mists of time. And along the eastern coast of Asia Novae, within the Oceanis Chinemsis between Corea and a large inland lake stood the city of Xanghai.
Xanghai was depicted on the map an an island containing a walled fort bearing a red pennon. Jean thought it was rather apt that this was where Lucien was at this very moment. This anachronistic depiction of island and fort and flag, geographically inaccurate and yet to Jean it could not be more real. Lucien could be in any walled city, on any island, in the middle of any sea and it would have made no difference. He was too far away for the rational imagination to understand. He wasn't here.
Jean chastised herself for feeling this way. Wasn't this what she wanted? To live in peace to mind the senior Blake's affairs and move on? For months she wished herself rid of him. Lucien was no visionary adventurer. He had come home bitter, disrupting her life and his father's, and when that wasn't enough he would disrupt the entire town. Jean thought time and patience would help him and when that failed, a stern hand. But every time he seemed to be adjusting to life in Ballarat he would plunge back into self destruction, each time worse than the next. On the last night that she saw him Jean had already decided that she could bear no more. She could not help him and she could not stand to watch him dismantle both their lives as if neither of them mattered. Trust Lucien to ruin her dramatic exit. Still, Jean could not hate him. He breathed life into the house and everything he touched, including Jean. He brought the colors of kindness and compassion into a monochrome world. As the months alone wore on Jean was surprised to find herself more attached to the person than the place. The house seemed void of meaning without him. It is another empty island on a map.
Jean sighed and flipped to the last leaf, Nova Hollandia. Here is half of a world, the western coast of Australia neatly drawn. The interior is empty, and the eastern coast expands into nothingness. A lone sea monster inhabits this kingdom. There is no Victoria. There is no Ballarat. Jean wondered if this is how Lucien saw his former home now, a place of so little consequence it was not worth marking down. Jean's town and Jean's existence were not only beneath notice but beneath existence.
A knock at the door brought her out of her reverie. Jean answered to find a young boy in a smart uniform holding an envelope.
"Telegram for Mrs. Beazely."
Jean stood for a moment, stunned. Telegrams were so rare these days, and even when they weren't Jean had never received one. After a moment Jean came to her senses. Rummaging around the kitchen for some change she accepted the envelope and tipped the boy, who thanked her and left on a dark blue push bike. For a while Jean just stood there, turning the envelope over and over. She knew without opening it who it must be from. A wave of emotions warred within her. She wondered if this was the dismissal she had long expected. He would stay in his world, and she would stay in hers. Part of her felt relief that the wait was finally over. The other part felt deep disappointment that she would never see him again. Eventually Jean decided that staring at the envelope in fear was accomplishing nothing and she walked back into the kitchen to open it. The terse sentences typed in black block letters filled the small yellow paper.
AM RETURNING IN THREE WEEKS TIME. WILL CALL FROM MELBOURNE. LOOK FORWARD TO SEEING YOU.
Jean tried and failed to suppress a smile. All her fears and doubts suddenly seemed superfluous. Lucien was coming home. Jean carefully placed the telegram in the center of the kitchen table. She would look at it every day for the next three weeks.