THE CHARLATAN

Number 2- Illustration by Christine Renney

Edmund hadn’t been cajoled, he hadn’t been suckered into this. He had agreed to meet with the Charlatan in order to end it, expose him for what he was; a fraud, a conman, a charlatan who was exploiting Edmund’s friends, taking advantage of them and taking their money.
At this late stage in his life, Edmund shared with his friends the wish to wallow in the past and he understood this desire completely. But their memories were intact and they didn’t need anyone to help them remember, least of all the Charlatan. He wasn’t a professional health worker, a therapist or a psychologist but a man on the make, a fraudster, a trickster.
Increasingly, Edmund, became exasperated, couldn’t understand how they could be so gullible. His friends were intelligent and had all been successful but old age, he believed, was at last taking its toll. He alone, he thought, was managing to cling on, still able to retain his reason, to think things through.
Both as a group, and individually, they railed against him, but he was unmovable, remained steadfast and angry. Despite this they wouldn’t back off, wouldn’t let it go and they beseeched and implored and pleaded with him.

‘Please, please meet with him. Just once, Edmund, it is all that we ask of you.’

Edmund hadn’t prepared for the encounter, he didn’t need a master plan to expose the Charlatan. He intended simply to let this man lay his hands on him but first he wanted to talk a little, to ask a few questions. Just a few minutes before he was due to arrive Edmund realised that he hadn’t given any thought at all to what he might say, how he would begin, what he wanted to ask and suddenly he felt frail and vulnerable and of course this was why the Charlatan preyed on the elderly. Edmund felt fury rising in him again, it washed through him, cleansing away all of the doubt and all of the fear. When the bell rang, Edmund was ready and defiantly he flung open the door.
The Charlatan was older than he had expected and Edmund was surprised to find that he did not match his preconceived ideas about how he would look, how he would appear, this confidence trickster. But this man was late sixties at least, dressed in a suit, tie and hat. He resembled a pedlar, an old salesman still making the effort each morning in order to look his best and he was clever. He didn’t have to haul a suitcase from door to door.

‘Come in,’ Edmund said, ‘come on through.’
We can at least be civil, Edmund thought, why shouldn’t we talk together politely. It wouldn’t take much to break him, not this man who looked as if he ought to be selling cleaning products or shoelaces or shirt buttons.

‘How did you discover it, what you do?’ Edmund tried his best to sound sincere. The Charlatan blushed and Edmund found himself wrong-footed yet again.
‘What’s wrong?’ he asked, ‘surely you’ve been asked this before?’
‘No, never.’
‘Really? That’s difficult to believe.’
‘People are always awkward, especially the first time. They feel embarrassed, I suppose, and anxious to find if what they have heard about me is true. They don’t make small talk and afterwards, well, they just want more.’
Edmund flinched, ‘What do you mean, more?’
‘I mean they want to remember, that’s all. You want it as well, it’s why I’m here.’
‘But I don’t need your help in order to remember.’
‘No, but you’ve heard, you’ve been told all about how, albeit fleetingly, I can make it so much more.’
‘But how is that possible?’
‘I don’t know.’
‘Why do you do it?’ Edward asked.
‘For the money, I suppose, to make my living.’
Sunlight poured through the kitchen window and Edmund couldn’t help but notice that the cuffs of the Charlatan’s shirt were frayed and his suit also was worn. Edmund was at least ten years older but standing beside him on that bright sunny morning he felt positively youthful.
‘It’s an unusual line of work to fall into,’ Edmund ventured. ‘Tell me,’ he murmured, surprising himself, ‘I am intrigued.’
The Charlatan shuffled backward, moving into the shade.
‘Certainly,’ he said at last, ‘but first may we go somewhere and sit.’

‘No, it doesn’t have to be a good memory but something sad is much more demanding, much more draining and afterwards it takes longer, it‘s much harder.’
‘For you?’
‘Yes, for me.’
Gleaning information from the Charlatan was proving to be a frustrating and difficult task. It was, Edmund thought, a little like trying to wring water from a dry cloth. He didn’t want to tell but show and Edmund was tempted simply to let this man take hold of him and get it over with. Of course, he didn’t believe but despite the impossible he wanted desperately to hear more.
He asked, ‘How did it begin?’
The Charlatan stared up and into the space above Edmund’s head. Suddenly he snapped to and looked directly at Edmund.
‘Were you married?’ he asked.
‘Yes.’
‘And your wife is dead?’
‘Yes.’
‘All the memories that you want to revisit are those you shared with her, am I correct? Those special moments that you experienced together.’
‘I hadn’t really thought about it,’ Edmund lied. ‘But I suppose so, yes, of course they are.’
‘We were married for thirty seven years. My wife and I were happy.’ The Charlatan’s voice had risen and he was almost shouting. ‘We were happy, we were contented. We didn’t have any doubts about our future together.’
‘I believe you,’ Edmund said softly, trying to calm him.
‘No, you don’t understand. This is when it happened, this is how it began. I’m trying to answer your question.’
‘I’m sorry,’ Edmund replied, ‘I didn’t mean to interrupt but I don’t understand.’
The Charlatan sighed, ‘My wife and I were sitting together one evening. She was in my arms. I felt all of it so intensely, the happiness, the contentment, that sense of security but it was all coming from her. It was her moment and I was locked into it.’
‘Did she realise?’
‘I’m not sure. We didn’t talk about it. For weeks after I hardly dare touch her but eventually I sat her down and asked her to remember something. Something good, something from her childhood that I knew nothing about. And then I held her again so that she would understand.’
‘And what happened?’ Edmund asked.

The Charlatan smiled, but weakly. ‘She wanted more,’ he said, ‘you always want more.’

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12 comments

  1. chrisnelson61

    I really like the way in which you have made this piece twist and turn, Mark, so that the reader is unsure of who is the protagonist and who the antagonist. True, they can be be read as one and the same, some sort of ‘spiritual awakening’ almost, but there is more to this. Strange how, with each reading, it both reveals and obscures more. Well written!

  2. scottishmomus

    Intriguing. I want more too. Perfectly executed narrative that draws on exactly that sense of elusive memory we sometimes revisit so sharply. I’m left wondering whether the charlatan’s gift is an ability to intuit or if he has harnessed something greater by physical contact. Or some combination of the two. Very intriguing. I want more. I said that already, I think. 🙂

  3. markrenney2

    To my mind it is a combination of the two, perhaps as all interaction is. Maybe the key is listening and allowing ‘ the other’ to swim in their sea of memory. Thank you for taking the time to read and comment on some of my work. Regards Mark.

  4. megdekorne

    Hi Mark …I have noticed before that you are superb at writing believable and intriguing dialogue and this post is flowing …your writing style is beautiful …I hope this story continues ….love , megxxx

  5. j.h. white

    I must admit…your stories put a spell on me. I enjoy getting caught up in them. The idea that the charlatan character realized that he was not only feeling his wife’s emotions, and not his own, but also her memories that added up to this moment is a unique twist. It’s also a great twist that theirs was a moment full of happiness. I always think of empaths generally picking up whatever makes another person vulnerable or some negative emotion they both can wallow in. More twists on twists….Good one Mark!!!!

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