The snow is falling, lightly, little flakes of lace and ice. There is no more grass, only a thickening blanket that looks pretty, but is as frozen as the air. She sits primly in a chair, with a steaming cup of tea nearby, staring out the window at the eternity of white, wondering about nothing and everything. One thing. Why; a simple question with no simple answer to be found. Why kept her up nights and haunted her days. Why did he have to go?
He left her. After wars and battles, miles between them for too long, and the imminence of the future to hold them together, he left her. A blink, a heartbeat, and everything was gone like a rug being snatched out from underneath her. The snow seems impossible, that it is winter and that nothing is the same, boggles her mind. It was summer, then it wasn’t. They were to be married, bare weeks ago, but now, she is alone.
It wasn’t always easy, loving him, but it never crossed her mind not to. How could she not? Love isn’t a choice, it’s like breathing, or bleeding. It’s at once drowning in the ocean and drawing breath on land. Love, once you have it, is oxygen and no one lives without oxygen. The bad was heartache, but livable and changeable, and it had and was again, but the good was like a fairy tale. Underneath it all, lay the heart of a warrior and the soul of a poet. The Love of her Lives, and he left.
She has no doubt that he loved her. None whatsoever, but the fact that he made the choices he did so that their future wouldn’t materialize niggles in her heart and in her head. He left, and those choices were the key to it. Would he have taken care of himself, as he promised, while she was away, then the world would be a different place. Marianne can’t understand but knows now that she likely never will.
It doesn’t change the fact that outside the window, the temperature is dropping, and the clouds are falling to the ground. It doesn’t change the reality that he is ashes and she is alive, and that the world feels like a hostile, lonely place to live out the remaining decades until they can be together again. Her stomach feels strangely and so do her arms. Maybe it’s the chill causing it.
Her tea has cooled and she sips at it gently, watching the day darken and sky begin to light with the most glorious colors. It eats up the remains of the day and spits out cosmic finger paintings that bleed overhead for us to stare at and feel. And she feels; the tears that spill from her eyes make black lines on her cheeks, as dark as the shadows that flitter here and there behind her, in the glass.
Ghosts, living their ethereal lives, unmindful of we the flesh-bound as we struggle in the same space, or figments of her imagination, she doesn’t know or care. Should they be demons, they can take her from her misery with no fight from her. Should they be messengers, they can leave their messages at the door. She’s had enough of riddles and messages from beyond to last her lifetimes.
The heaviness in her arms is now in her chest and it is unbearable. The pain in her chest is overwhelming enough to steal her breath. A molten monster broiling in her throat and she is unable to breathe out the fire that holds her hostage. Then, it lessens and she sips at the cold tea in order to quench the embers.
“Would you like more tea? It must be cold by now.” A gentle, nudging voice from the doorway reminds her to drink again, and she grimaces. It is indeed distasteful cold. “Wouldn’t you rather come sit by the fire where it’s warm, Marianne? You’ll catch your –“ Her words stop and hang in the air. “You know what I mean. Please?”
Marianne shakes her head with a sigh and stands on tingling feet with that growing ache in her chest. Maybe she’d been sitting to long. Supper was rather large, even by normal standards. She probably ate too much. “Fine, Harlow, I’ll come,” Marianne rasps, her strength stolen by the again growing ache.
The shadows are still there, and there are blurs in the periphery. They dance around a figure who stands in the doorway watching them both. She knows that shape, and turns to stare accusingly at Harlow, clenching her fist. Her head hurts with the weight of her rage, hurts bad enough for tears to stand out in her eyes. “What have you done?” Harlow’s open mouth and wide eyes say everything.
“I am leaving. Don’t call or come by, Harlow. This was an extremely cruel trick to pull, and I won’t forgive it or forget,” Marianne spits, grabbing for her coat and purse. Walking all those miles in the snow to a new establishment will be difficult, with her breath caught in her lungs, and with cold, but she can’t stay here.
“Marianne, I swear I don’t know who he is. I saw him come in about 10 minutes before I came to see how you were. I wouldn’t do that to you. Do you know him?”
“I better not know him, or there will be a lot of cops here shortly. And blood, a lot of blood.” Marianne replied coldly, feeling the bite of her fingernails in her palms. Nothing more than a mere shadow, she can feel eyes on hers and it makes her angry.
Lightheaded, she steadies herself by leaning on the wall, then mutters, “Get out of here Harlow. Give me ten, though and send someone bigger in, please,” Marianne grabs Harlow’s arm gently as she walks by, turning her back, “really look at him, when you pass. Details. It might be important, later. Please, Harlow?”
She nods and winks, yanking her arm away, “yeah yeah, remember this next time you accuse me of trying to hurt you. Good thing I love you.” Marianne hides a smirk, knowing that she will pay for it later, and crosses her arms, staring back at the shadow-man in the doorway. His presence there, and the fact that he is still hiding his face angers Marianne.
True, everything is a two way street, and she could march over there herself to get her answers, but the fear of knowing is almost as bad as not. She feels confused, and she never did like feeling that way. Her head is swimming, so that idea is a moot one. Glaring across at him, she calls out, “Why don’t you come out of the shadows so I can see who you are?
“Because if I do, you won’t want to go back.” A tingle, then a cold shiver dances up her spine. The voice is familiar but altered somehow, but she knows it like her own skin. “What the hell is this happy horseshit? How the hell?! And go back? Go back to where? My life? What life? Istanbul? Edmonton? “
“You know where. Please stop playing stupid. You have never been good at that.”
Unexpected and unwelcome tears over spill her eyes, staining her cheeks with frustration. She always hated that she cried when she was frustrated or confused. Someone told her once that tears were a sign of weakness. They made her a typical woman.
“Listen, my chest hurts, and I don’t feel well. Can we drop the games? Come out of the shadows, go back to the lounge, or whatever you’d please, but I need to leave. I really don’t feel well.”
There are black cobwebs on the edges of her vision, wavering as though in a wind. Something is very wrong, and she knows it for sure when my knees buckle. The pain is immense, but she has no air to scream about it. Marianne can hear Harlow hollering at someone to call 9-1-1 then doing it herself.
The cobwebs are in the air, too, dark wisps floating like bats in dream, and they look like fairies. Their touch is gentle, cooling on her overheated face. They gather close, covering her vision like a blanket and then it clears. She knows him – of course she knows him, but she can’t speak to say hello. He grins and presses his lips to hers, flooding her with a different kind of warmth.”
“You have to go back, and you know why. I’ve saved a place by the fire for you, and it will be here, waiting. So will I. So will we all, but you can’t stay. Not this time.” All this he speaks with tears and smiles. He was right, she doesn’t want to leave but he is fading, or she is. The warmth of his touch lingers, as does his kiss on her lips. Then he is gone, in a blast of light that blinds. That light is covered in needles and nails and coming alive into it is agony beyond comprehension. All she wants to do is run, far away from all the pain.
“Marianne? You can’t sit up right now. Please, lay still, honey.” Harlow’s voice sounds like it’s coming from underwater in slow-motion, and Marianne shakes her head briskly, “Mari? You’re going to be okay. The ambulance is on its way but the snow is slowing every down. They said 5 minutes.”
“Harlow, I had the worst dream. I love you, you know. I need to tell you that and that the papers are in the office drawer. Everything, in case, okay?
“Why of course I know that, but it’s nice to hear. I love you too, weirdo. Marianne, he saved your life! Old Lady Murtper saw you collapse and that guy, he started CPR as soon as he saw you weren’t breathing. I called EMT and came to you as soon as I could.”
“Where is he? Where – did he leave?”
Harlow’s eyes narrow and she squeezes Marianne’s hand. “He was talking to you, real quiet and then moved off so that I could talk to you. He’s in the foyer, waiting for the cops. Cute too.”
Her heart is stuttering inside her, like a drummer off beat and it hurts to even lay there. The regulars are gathered, peeking in at her from around the doorway with concern, chattering away. Talk of the town for weeks, she suspects, and giggles a little. First time they got to see her laying down, and at this she guffaws.
Harlow shakes her head and laughs with her, before shoving her back to the ground. “They said no moving. Stay. There. He did say something odd, though. He smiled and said to tell you that when you are ready, you should come sit by the fire. Does that make sense? Marianne? Marianne?!”