Every Thursday, Lethe takes a look through its vaults for its proudest releases. Continuing from last week's queer Sherlock anthology A Study In Lavender, this week it's My Dear Watson, the Lambda Literary Award-winning novel from L.A. Fields. Even better, My Dear Watson is just $9 for the paperback this month at the Lethe website.
Read the first chapter here:
He will arrive at any moment, and my dear husband is a mess. Any casual observer would see the flyaway strands of my hair, my misaligned skirts, one boot untied, and assume that I was the flustered one, but this is only my natural state. Watson sits in a chair by the door, hands compulsively rubbing his knees, mustache twitching irregularly, waiting in a fit of nervous agony. If I were to press my ear to his chest, I would hear his heart beating a swift clip, like a thing terrified.
“Darling,” I say as descend the stairs in front of him. “Would you help me tie these laces? I don’t want to bend in this dress and wrinkle it up before our guest arrives.”
“Of course,” he says, his mustache twitching at me as he mumbles. I place my foot on the seat of his chair, toe pointed between his knees. He takes up my bootstraps and starts to tighten them, but his fingers shake too badly. “I can’t,” he admits, his voice wavering pathetically as if he might burst into tears. He sinks his head back into his hands.
“That’s all right. I’ll ask Kitty for help.” I kiss the top of his head, but he hardly notices; it’s as if a fly has bumped into him. Poor thing; he cares what this man thinks of us.
I hobble into the kitchen trying to keep my boot on all the way. I am making an effort on behalf of my husband, but I am not concerned with whether or not He likes me. I think the likelihood is rather stacked against us becoming friends, with all that we have stolen from one another. But I seem to be alone in my reluctance to meet this man. Kitty is chattering with our cook as I walk in, and she is positively flushed with anticipation.
“…and I told Celia that I would actually be meeting Sherlock Holmes and she’s so jealous she refuses to believe me. It’s true that I’ll be introduced to him, Mrs. Watson? I only want to get a look at him, maybe let the distinguished gentleman kiss my hand!”
“I’ll introduce you as a princess if you’ll just do up these laces for me,” I tell her. Kitty immediately sinks into a puddle of her apron and does them up. Sweet girl, does whatever anyone tells her, unfortunately. The young men in this area have already picked her out as the favorite, but she’s got good people to look out for her welfare, if anyone would call us good.
“Thank you, child,” I say to her. “Any other improvements you’d make?”
“Other than your attitude?” quips Maurice, the cook. He knows he can say whatever he pleases to me, that I love him like my own father, who died before the war broke out. The one comfort in that was at least my father never had to see his country bombed.
Maurice has been with my family since I was a child, and he still treats me like one. It makes a woman feel young, and I don’t mind. It’s true that if I choose to act like a petulant child, I cannot be surprised when people speak to me this way. I dread the treatment I’ll receive from Sherlock Holmes; he is not famous for respecting women.
Kitty squints at my outfit from bottom to top. She stops at my hair and shakes her head. “I’m almost tempted to pat it down with some kitchen grease,” she says, standing on tiptoe and licking her fingers, smoothing my hair up and back.
“I look forward to the end of these celebrations,” I say to Maurice. “I feel like we’ve been hosting since the armistice was signed, and that was six months ago. I don’t like being polite for so long.”
“We know,” Maurice says in his bored, sneering way, but he is smiling. I stop over to kiss his face just above the whiskers, careful to keep my body well away from him and the stove, equally terrified of stains as of fire.
The door chimes, and each of us in the kitchen freezes. That must be Him. The famous Him, whom we’ve all been hearing about for years and yet never set eyes on. Everyone I know has built such an idol of him, that paragon of English defense, just the sort of figure people would put heart behind when the whole world cried out for justice during the recent conflicts. He’s more important than ever, as a figure of legend, and it’s all Watson’s doing that made him so. People do tend to forget that part.
I feel my eyes go wide in anticipation, in spite of my deliberate intentions to remain unimpressed by this man, I feel a strange presentiment. Who is he that I should care, except that my husband thinks so highly of him? Rather too highly, if you ask me, but Watson rarely does solicit my opinion about Holmes. He knows the truth already himself, how he can be blinded by the shimmer from that man. There is a reason the detective has never been to our home; he is an unstable quantity, and Watson and I like the quiet life.
I shoo Kitty from the door and creep into the hall carefully and peak between the columns of the banister, hoping to get an initial look at this demi-god, and size him up. My heart squirms at what I see.
There is Mr. Sherlock Holmes, looking just as I had imagined him: tall and slim, his fingers long like a pianist’s, his facial features sharp enough to injure someone walking by. He is browner than he used to be, from living at the seaside in recent years, where he keeps bees and I’m sure talks down to the locals. I can smell a hint of salt from here, so my dear Watson must be overwhelmed with the scent, since he has his face buried in Holmes’s shoulder.
They are embracing each other tightly, blissfully, as if they’ve been a lifetime away from one another. I don’t believe I am jealous—I’m a modern woman, and I knew of my husband’s flexible nature before I married him—but I am rather destabilized by this scene. They just look so desperately happy to be holding one another. It’s touching, but it touches one awfully hard.
“I believe,” Sherlock says softly, and it’s a wonder I can hear him, since his voice is muffled against my husband’s neck, “that Mrs. Watson has joined us.”
I know better than to ask how he sensed me, since he probably still relishes any opportunity to condescend to a member of the general public. I stand up straight, nonchalant, as if I was crouching behind the banister for some other reason, some objective other than to see how they are together. I’ve heard so much about it, after all. Mr. Watson and I have no secrets.
“Sherlock Holmes, of course.” I hold out my hand in an attempt to avoid any awkwardness. He sees right through me, the horrible hawk-eyed man. But I know all about him as well, and I will not be intimidated.
“My lady,” he says, bowing to kiss my hand. He is being purposefully old-fashioned, trying to remind me of my place. There’s no need for that anymore, not after what this country’s been through, and all that its women contributed. “You have a lovely home,” Sherlock Holmes says, as if that is all I’ve achieved. He smirks up at me from his bow. My smile is more of a sneer. It amuses him; I can tell by the glee that smolders behind his eyes like a kindling blaze. I must give credit to Watson’s literary abilities here—I know the look well already. I’ve read all about it.
“Well, Watson, what’s for dinner?” He takes his eyes off of me and it as if I cease to exist, as if he was just introduced to a child, or a pet, and no longer needs to acknowledge it. I can tell this is going to be a long evening.
Holmes and Watson walk off towards the dining room, arm-in-arm, chatting about every other meal they’ve had together or some such dull subject. It is amazing to watch them go about together. They behave quite convincingly as if nothing has happened between them but a temperate friendship, when of course it was the most tempestuous love.
A barking laugh from Holmes rings out as they turn the corner and I linger in the entryway. It is important to Watson to have Holmes here, finally. They have seen one another so rarely since Watson and I were married, and always it was Watson going to him, taking trips to the coast about once a year, hoping that someday Holmes might care enough to come to him.
It took the War snatching away all our sureties, but Sherlock Holmes is willing to go out of his way to see his friend. If he’s so wretchedly smart, why does it take a catastrophe to make him appreciate who he has? His whole life is riddled with upheavals, after which he turns to Watson, assuming (rightly, most of the time) that Watson would be waiting for him.
I can hear low murmuring from the next room, intimate murmuring, the sort of words you can feel brush against your face if you’re the one they are meant for. I struggle back and forth where I stand, at once lured and repulsed by the sound of their voices. I know too much for my own good! Over my years with Watson, I’ve filled in all the gaps.
I know the whole sordid story.
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