I am Ellis Swift.
“So what?”, I hear you say. It is true you have no reason to be interested in me, and you probably haven’t heard of me, but trust me I have a story to tell. Well, I say *a* story it would be more proper and accurate to say *stories*, stories within stories, stories nested one within another. The stories aren’t necessarily about *me*, sometimes I will appear on the periphery or will merely be relating a story told to me (at other times I will be *intimately* involved, one might say); no, mostly these stories are about a Family, an old American Family – or as old as a family can be in the youthful United States. The family’s name is Swift, and so intertwined with the city in which they live are they that they are rarely referred to without that city’s name appended. Thus, the Swifts of Brenston.
You may be thinking “God, they sound white bread and dull”, and certainly there is something of the Protestant about them but it isn’t the whole story. The male Swifts if they are any religion have often been Protestants but they have often married outside those narrow confines to sensuous sparky intelligent Jewish American women, to clever passionate Catholics, and to many, many, bold witty seductive agnostics and atheists (truth be told some of the aforementioned Jewish and Catholic ladies were more agnostic or atheist than the categories that the conventional might try to shove them in), besides the Swifts are an idiosyncratic family. All appearances to the contrary.
You may also be wondering why, if I’m a scion of this strange family, am I not more fully acquainted with – or a part of – these stories? The thing is I am *not* a scion of the Brenstonian Swifts, no, I’m a member of a distant branch of the family and until – years ago I was only glancingly aware of them. You see my distant branch, the poor cousins if you like, lives in Great Britain mostly and the Swifts of Brenston were as mysterious to us as the ways of the heart. The only real contact with them I had was through my Aunt Elisa (pronounced Eh-LEESA), my father’s sister, she had moved to the States the eighties and through a confusing series of events – of which even she seemed unsure – had been introduced to Brenstonian Swifts, discovered their obscure connections with the English Swifts and had then fallen rapidly and totally in love with one Jeremy Swift whom she had soon married. Elisa and Jeremy rarely visited England (which may have had something to do with Jeremy’s morbid fear of flying, which I suspect I’ll tell you a little about at a later date) but when they did they always visited my parents, not so much for Elisa to see her brother – as my dad could give icebergs a lesson in coldness – but so she could catch up with my mother, with whom she is extremely close friends.
Elisa and Jeremy would arrive unostentatiously, even though they would be using some very expensive car or other, and soon my mother and I would be crying with laughter as they regaled us with various unlikely tales. Both Elisa and Jeremy reminded me of me, in that both were quiet and shy at first but once they warmed to you and felt comfortable they would reveal a sense of humour and a slightly cracked view of the world, all the while having reserves of sensitivity and emotion that might not be detectable if all you saw was the apparently standoffish surface. I must only have seen them five or six times over the years yet I was intrigued by the hints of the history of the Swifts of Brenston I received, but, truth be told, I didn’t really think much about them; particularly as it didn’t seem I would ever have the excuse or opportunity to encounter them and to learn more about them. As it happens, I was wrong. Very, very, very, wrong. Fortunately, I have never tried to make a living as a psychic.
I said you’d probably never heard of me but if you *do* recognize my name it is likely because I’m a writer (and, hopefully, *not* because I owe you money), I’ve written for many glossy magazines with names like The Look, Guy, and Rialto (note magazine titles may have been changed to protect the guilty); more importantly I’ve had two novels published, the first, English Romance, was a success, a very big success, it sold an unholy amount of copies – from my point of view, was optioned for a movie, and made me quite a lot of money and a surprising amount of critical praise; the second, Carpe Noctem, was different, sure it got one or two very good reviews but a whole lot more that were puzzled or angry or excoriatory, plus it sold bupkes as my Uncle Lawry would say. So, I guess you could say I’m a writer *of sorts*.
I had been spending some time moping and sloping around, not sure of what I should do next, not certain if I *could* write another novel, devoid of inspiration and using the money from English Romance as a cushion when I decided to visit my mother. It just so happened the Aunt Elisa was visiting, it just so happened that I poured my heart out about my situation, and it just so happens that two things happened almost simultaneously: I received inspiration like a burst of divine light in my mind and Elisa and Jeremy made a suggestion. Both of those things together would change my life.
As Elisa and Jeremy spoke of their life in Brenston it was like a lantern was lit in the darkened landscape of my mind, and that lantern became increasingly bright until it became a blazing fire and then burned brighter still becoming a sun that rose and illuminated that dark country in a way not unlike the coming of love to a formerly lost and lonely heart. If, that is, you go in for such strained similes. The stories they told of their life with the other Swifts and some of the weirder or more surprising things associated with that large family and its tangled interrelationships with Brenstonian society stimulated my imagination, for the first time in an age I found ideas aborning in my mind. I felt excited, *giddy* even, and couldn’t help but reflect how mercenary a writer’s creativity can be, how eager the mind is to take experience and knowledge transform it into writing, though this lessens neither the experience nor the knowledge it instead gives it another expression, another life, it records and reifies it. I wasn’t quite sure what I was going to do with this sudden inspiration but I knew I had to do *something*. You might say I was somewhat shocked and elated then, when Aunt Elisa said what she did next. “Ellis, forgive me if that sounds a terrible idea to you, but Jeremy and I were wondering if you’d ever considered visiting with us in Brenston?” I must have looked stunned because Jeremy almost immediately chipped in with “Yes, we’ve got plenty of room and we thought that you might like to write there. We’d be *proud* to have a real *scribe* with us, and I think you’d have a lot in common with our other nieces and nephews,” he paused with an expression like a magician about to perform the Big Reveal; “And, you never know, you may find some *IN-SPIR-AY-SHUN* in our “Swiftian” world!” That was it, the companion to the illumination, I could go to Brenston, meet the other Swifts, experience their lives, investigate their histories, perhaps I could get articles out of it or even a novel! But even if I didn’t, I was sure that the change of scenery and encounters with new and fascinating people would bring a new spark to my imaginings.
*That* was how it all began. I had no real conception of exactly *where* it would take me, and would have been astonished if I had…