Autumn is a second spring when every leaf is a flower —Albert Camus
Autumn was bittersweet—it could be best summed up in the words of George Bernard Shaw: “There are two tragedies in life. One is to lose your heart’s desire. The other is to gain it.”
Of course, Shaw was seeing life through a sanguine perspective when he wrote those words, but I was seeing it through the mask of tragedy and the mournful colors of another somber season without Regan.
Regan was my heart’s desire and when she perished in an accident, my dreams shattered along with her. I doubted I’d ever be really happy again or meet anyone as unique, but that all changed when I found Marin.
Marin Woods was special. Our relationship began one day in my graduate seminar when I was fascinated by the sheen of her hair.
The sun was slanting in the window turning the blonde and red filaments into a dazzling copper brighter than any newly minted penny.
I was lost in the daydream of her until Doctor Hedges kindly reminded me how beautiful women are always distractions but one must still attend to the business at hand—in this case, ironically Pirandello, and our discussion of illusion and reality.
I was too afraid to look at Marin and had to endure the smirking faces of my classmates, but after class she and I happened to be walking down the same path and I stole a glance at her and saw a shadow of a smile steal across her features.
She stopped and turned to me, “I’m sorry Dr. Hedges embarrassed you, Jess—he always makes facetious remarks, none of which are true.”
Her spin on things let me off the hook, but I couldn’t lie. “Actually, I was staring at you—I was fascinated by the color of your hair and the way the sunbeams light it on fire.”
She looked intrigued, “That’s very poetic, and a good line if you’re a player.”
“Who me—a player?” I snorted, “Not bloody likely. I must have turned twenty shades of purple in that room.”
“I’d say your color was more rosy, but I thought it was adorable.”
“Oh great—‘adorable’—what every man wants to hear.”
“Well, it should be,” she countered, “besides, I was smiling at you—why didn’t you smile back?”
“I guess I was too embarrassed to notice. I wanted to sink into the floor.”
“Hey, it wasn’t that bad by Dr. Hedges’ standards—he went easy on you. But you owe me.”
“I do?” I croaked.
“I’d say a Caramel Macchiato might redeem you. I’m heading to the bank and there’s a Starbucks right beside it.”
“Actually, I was heading there too—to the bank, I mean—but coffee sounds great.”
She stopped and tilted her head toward me, her long hair shimmering in the sun, “Are you sure you’re not a player?”
“Me? No—honestly, I think you’re beautiful.” The words just came out.
She smiled and looped her arm around mine, “In that case, I’d also like a pumpkin scone.”
And that’s how we began—and how I ended up inviting her to our family Thanksgiving dinner.
When you’re first in love everything seems brighter. Marin made the russet shades of autumn grow even more brilliant.
I had been in sorrow for a year grieving Regan but now my spirits lifted. The sky was bluer—the air fresher, and the woods, like my heart, were on fire.
The drive up to my family’s country home was breathtaking especially considering the estate was situated on the Niagara escarpment. A tidal wave of color had submerged everything and it seemed the old tired world I knew had perished and both it and I had been reborn.
The cool breeze shuddering against the car helped drown out the pounding of my heart. I barely knew Mar, but already was thoroughly enchanted.
She seemed happy too—occasionally she’d reach across and put her hand over mine, and her smile melted everything that grief and loss had frozen inside me.
The suffocating heaviness was gone and I could breathe freely again, and smile spontaneously—and yes, even wipe away a stray tear of joy from my eyes.
It was October and I was in love. It was perfect.
My family instantly took to her—even Quincy, our finicky golden retriever, adopted her and lay beside her, his muzzle gently resting on her foot.
“You seem to have won some hearts,” Mom smiled at Mar, while subtly winking at me.
Yes, she has won hearts, I smiled inwardly, feeling as if my own would burst.
After lunch, she and I hiked to the ridge where Regan had her accident. I had to show her—to get it over with and out of the way.
She peered cautiously over the edge at the green and yellow quilt of fields below. “It’s lovely here, but windy.”
“That’s how it happened,” I said solemnly. “One sudden gust of wind and Regan was swept over the edge.”
“How terrible for you to witness, Jess.”
“No, thankfully I didn’t see it. Regan and Charly had hiked up here—Charly’s our neighbor—you’ll get to meet her later.”
She shook her head sobered at the thought of what transpired.
“I just felt I had to bring you here—to make sure there was nothing unspoken between us. I’ve spent a year grieving Regan, but all my sorrow won’t bring her back.”
She looped her arm around mine and leaned against me. I inhaled the faint scent of her perfume.
“That’s lovely—your perfume. What scent is it?”
She laughed, “I’m not wearing perfume. I guess I’m just a country girl at heart.”
I breathed in the fragrance of her skin and hair—it was fresh as snow with a hint of green apple.
“You really are a country girl,” I laughed. “I like that.”
We shared our first kiss on the ridge, buffeted by autumn winds, and watching a hawk circle the fields below.
Charly took to Marin as easily as Quincy and by the time the family was sitting around the bonfire they seemed well on the way to becoming fast friends—sort of like Charly and Regan.
That thought made my throat tighten and my eyes smart—Mom noticed and called me aside, “Are you all right, Jess?”
“It’s nothing, Mom—just some wood smoke in my eyes. I’m doing fine—really.”
“Charly and Marin seem to be hitting it off,” she observed, “does it bother you?”
I feigned shock. “Bothered by two women being friends? No, not all, Mom—I hope Charly and Mar become close. I think it may even help Charly get over Regan as well.”
“You know Charly’s uncle has been worried about her—says she’s practically erected a shrine to Regan in her room. I feel sorry for that girl—first her parents die, and then her best friend—it must be hard on her.”
I nodded. “I know it has been hard, Mom—on all of us, but I think it best now that we try to put it behind us—move on with our lives.”
She smiled at me and patted my hand softly, but seeing the two girls laughing by the fire put a wistful look on her face. “Put it behind us…” she whispered, “I hope we can.”
The next day Nate Brinker and a few of the neighbors wanted to go horseback riding. I invited Mar to come along, but was surprised to find she already made plans.
“Charly invited me to come over to her place for coffee. She suggested we could go for a hike and she’d show me the old ruins.”
The ruins were a local mystery—nobody was quite sure what they were or how old they were. It would be an adventure for Mar, but I still felt bad abandoning her on only her second day here.
“Don’t be worried, Jess—go horseback riding with your friends—Charly and I have a lot to catch up.”
My ears perked up. “Catch up—about what?”
“About you, Silly. Charly’s going to share all the local tidbits and gossip, and you can bet I’ll be badgering her for juicy info on you.”
“Maybe, I should stay after all,” I laughed.
“No way, Jose—I wouldn’t pass up this chance for the world.”
She grabbed the lapels of my wool coat and pulled me close to her, pressing her soft lips against mine. I lost my breath and went tingly. When I regained my composure I hissed in her ear, “If I let you go, will there be more of that later when I get back?”
Her eyes danced. “That all depends on what secrets Charly reveals. I hope there was no history between the two of you.”
“What—me and Charly? You’ve got to be kidding. She’s the girl next door—not a femme fatale.”
“Who knows what secrets will be divulged,” she smiled seductively, “and whether our Lothario is a shining knight or a shameless rake.”
“Neither,” I quipped, “which is good for your sake.”
“I’ll be the judge of that,” she countered, breezing out of the room, leaving me longing for more of those soft warm kisses.
When I got back from riding it was past five and there was no sign of Mar.
I decided to ride over to Charly’s and check on the two of them. Her uncle answered the door.
“They’ve been gone for two hours, Jess—I was kinda worried looking at that sky. I think a storm’s brewing.”
“Did they go to the ruins?”
“As far as I know, but they should have been back by now.”
“I’ll go hunt them down, Mr. Crawford—sort of like rounding up strays. Don’t you worry, now.”
As I rode out of the farmyard I wasn’t as hopeful as I pretended —in fact, I was worried because dusk was falling quickly helped in part by storm clouds overhead.
I headed in the direction of the ruins and then on impulse, changed my mind and spurred my horse toward the ridge.
I tied up my mount at the base of the cliff and began the steep climb to the summit.
The wind picked up and I saw the first red streak of lightning. I pressed on and when I got to about twenty feet from the top I heard a terrified scream. It sounded like Marin.
I scrambled up the loose rock of the path, slipping and falling twice in my haste and made it to the top in time to see the two women struggling in the wind, grappling as if wrestling.
“Mar!” I cried out.
The two women froze and turned toward me. Charly had a wild look on her face as if her features had distorted.
“Help me, Jess,” Mar cried, backing away from the crazed Charly.
‘It’s over now,” Charly shouted against the wind, “you’ve ruined everything.”
She picked up a heavy tree limb that was lying on the ground and came at Mar swinging it like a baseball bat. Mar slipped as she fell backwards just as Charly swung the limb with all her might.
The blow missed Mar but threw Charly off balance. She stumbled forward onto her hands and knees, as I watched in horror, frozen to my spot.
Charly was deranged—blind with anger. She reached for the limb again and stumbled to her feet, but as she righted herself to swing a fatal blow, she lost her balance and stumbled backwards, falling over the edge.
I hear a long wail I thought was from Charly, but realized it was Mar, pitched forward into a crouch as if she had been kicked in the stomach. By the time I got to her she was moaning and incoherent.
I half-carried her back from the verge of the ledge, and tried to calm her, but all she could do was groan and repeat Regan’s name over and over as if she were lost in a nightmare—which no doubt was.
It took hours before the medics had calmed Mar enough to be coherent. A policewoman began to question her and try to piece together the fragments of her story.
Mar insisted I sit beside her while she gave her statement.
“When I got to Charly’s I was expecting coffee, but Charly insisted we drink wine. We drank enough that Charly got drunk and said too much.”
“What do you mean by that?” the policewoman asked.
“I mean she started telling me how she worshipped Regan and tried to be like her. I saw her room—all the pictures of Regan—it was spooky. It made me feel sick inside. I told her we should go for a hike—I just had to get out of there, Jess.”
I patted her hand. “It’s all right, Mar—just tell the policewoman what happened.”
“She took me on a hike, but we didn’t go to the ruins—we ended up at the cliff. She asked me if you told me what happened there and I said yes, and she began to laugh.”
“Go on, Mar,” I encouraged her.
“It was the weirdest thing, Jess—her face changed—I mean she sort of shape-shifted into the likeness of Regan I saw in those photographs. That’s when she began talking really crazy.”
“What did she say exactly?” the policewoman asked.
“She said Regan was no good—that she cheated on you, Jess. Charly told me that she had always loved you, and that she was meant to be with you. That’s why she became Regan, because she knew Regan pleased you.”
I looked at her in confusion. “How did she become Regan?”
“She started rambling on about twin souls—and then said something really crazy, Jess—she said, it’s true, you know—you can become someone else, but then, you have to take over their life.”
“I don’t get it, Mar—what does that mean?”
Mar buried her face in her hands. “She killed her Jess—it was no accident. Charly pushed Regan off that cliff so she could become her—take over her life.”
I felt my insides turn to ice water. I was trembling so much my teeth were chattering, but I had to hear her out.
“She thought she would at last be able to be with you, Jess, especially when you invited her to Thanksgiving dinner, but then you showed up with me. She couldn’t bear to go through it again so she lured me up there to have another ‘accident’ so she could be with you.”
“Well, it’s all over now, Mar—she’s gone.”
“But Jess—you don’t understand. She didn’t just act like Regan—she really did become her. Her face physically changed right before my eyes. Her voice got husky and even her gestures were different.”
The policewoman looked at me and shrugged as if to say Mar was deluded, but I know different. Regan’s voice was deeper than Charly’s and her gestures more graceful.
I don’t know how it happened but I do believe that somehow Charly became another soul.
I stayed at the hospital while the doctor gave Mar a shot and waited until she was comfortably asleep.
There’d be no sense trying to explain the details of Mar’s version to my family or Charly’s uncle—they wouldn’t be able to understand—jealousy yes, but transmigration of souls?
“Mar wasn’t making sense”, the policewoman told me. “She was in shock. As for that business about Charly turning into Regan, well, that was a form of temporary insanity. And after what that girl went through up there, who could blame her?”
I didn’t argue with her—Mar certainly went through a horrific experience on the ridge.
And maybe we should leave it at that—say Charly was emotionally distraught and suicidal after returning to the place where her best friend died.
Perhaps it will be easier for others to see Charly as a deeply grieving friend, but Mar and I know what really happened up on that ridge.
For us, grief has become a place and a person…and now it’s a memory we both share.
© 2016, John J Geddes. All rights reserved.