stone man

 “You hate someone whom you really wish to love, but whom you cannot love.”
                                    —Sri Chinmoy

 

“It’s a mistake to go with her, my friend. She just doesn’t dislike you—she abhors you.”

Raff’s eyes were filled with pain. He wanted to spare me, but couldn’t. He knew I was stubborn.

“I hear you, Raff, but if I don’t go, I may not get another chance.”

He shrugged and fell silent.

We both knew it’d be years before the National Geographic Society would again sponsor another expedition into Portugal to study the ancient rock carvings.

So it was a choice—go or stay.

For me, the choice consisted of Jessica Saunders, or the missed opportunity of a lifetime.

But really, it was both—I was in love with her.

I was doomed to lose regardless and my heart would break either way.

 

Jessica was expressionless when she heard the news.

“So, you and Mark will form the team,” Raff said matter-of-factly.

She didn’t flinch—remained completely composed.

“Do you have any concerns?” he asked pointedly.

“No, when do we leave?”

“Tomorrow morning at eight—if that’s okay with you.”

“That’ll be fine,” she said coolly.

Raff arched an eyebrow as he turned to face me, but the die was cast, as far as I was concerned. I was eager to go.

He sensed my reaction and just shrugged. “Have a good trip,” he sighed, “and try not to get on each others’ nerves.”

And that was that.

 

Two days later we were in a prehistoric rock art site in the Côa Valley, Portugal, observing and documenting continuous human occupation from the end of the Paleolithic Age.

Our tents were pitched near the Côa River and to all appearances we were functioning as a team, but the reality was quite different.

In day-to-day work, we were more like toddlers engaged in parallel play—each completely ignoring the other.

The first night, we ate supper before the fire—the flames bronzing Jessica’s lovely profile.

She had honey-colored hair and huge brown eyes. When she looked at me, I turned to stone.

We were terse, trying not to step on the other’s toes and yet, at the same time, being excessively polite—possibly for the same reason.

“Do you want more coffee,” she said softly, “before I throw this out?”

Her voice was a whisper and it drove me mad with longing. Just asking a mere question was a lovely poetry that stirred my soul.

“No, thank you,” I said, staring into the depths of her brown eyes. They seemed limitless as the night sky.

I watched as she emptied the coffee pot and washed the tin cups. I was in torment. She was so lovely. I hated my fate.

One drunken remark shortly after we met doomed our budding relationship. I made the mistake of joking coarsely with her—treating her like every other woman, when clearly she was not.

I’ve played and replayed that moment—her terse questions, her flashing eyes and simmering anger.

I was a total fool and my apology the next day didn’t mend matters and may have made them worse.

Now, there was this awkward gulf between us and there was nothing I could do.

She finished her task, said good night and retired for the night—leaving me beneath a river of stars, bereft and abandoned.

I deserved my fate, but hated it.

 

It was past three when I awoke—something disturbed me.

I looked over to Jessica’s tent and saw the lantern lit—but inside, I saw two figures. I rubbed my eyes, and looked back, but the second person had disappeared.

My breathing stopped.

At that moment, Jessica emerged from the tent and wandered down to stare at the river.

The Moon had risen and now turned the flowing water into a glitter of diamonds.

I saw Jessica’s body shudder and her shoulders heave in unmistakable sobs.

I wanted to console her. My arms trembled, torn between the desire to comfort and fear of offending.

After a while, she stopped heaving, and sat down staring into the depths of the river.

I lay on my pillow watching her until I fell asleep.

In the morning, she was aloof as usual.

I couldn’t bring myself to ask, or even engage in polite conversation.

The gulf between us widened again.

 

That night, we sat again in a sea of uncertainty and polite distance. Everything between us was formal and functional.

Finally, I could take it no longer—I’d risk making a fool of myself, but had to ask.

“Did you sleep well last night?”

She looked at me suspiciously as if I invaded her privacy.

“I slept well—why do you ask?”

“I saw you sitting by the river—it must have been past three.”

She bristled. I could feel a terse reply welling up—maybe she’d parry with a blunt question. Are you stalking me now, Mark?

But she didn’t ask. She looked away, as if measuring a response.

“You’re right,” she whispered, “I did spend some time by the river.”

“I do that some times,” I reassured her.

“I doubt you do—at least, for the same reason.”

“I don’t mean to pry, Jessica—you seemed so sad.”

“Did I?” Again, the look of defiance in her eyes.

I wanted to back down, but didn’t. “You were crying,” I said.

She clasped her hands together around her ankles as in a fetal position and began rocking.

My heart melted for her.

“I know we’re not close,” I told her, “but sometimes, it helps to talk.”

She looked at me as if she’d burst out laughing—but then, the mood passed and her eyes softened.

“Do you know what a moledro is?”

“Yes,” I said, “a pile of stones—a cairn.”

She laughed harshly. “Not just a pile of stones—a sacred sculpture meant to represent a human figure.”

“Okay,” I conceded.

“Do you know the legend?”

I shook my head.

“The stones are said to be enchanted soldiers. If one is taken from the pile and placed beneath a pillow, a soldier will appear just before dawn. He’s only there for a moment—then, he turns to stone and magically returns to the pile.”

A silence like a shadow fell between us. I was afraid to speak.

“I saw him, Mark—I saw a soldier.”

“You mean, you took a rock from the cairn and put it under your pillow?”

She nodded.

“Why?”

She took a deep breath and let it out slowly in a huge sigh.

“I doubt you’d understand.”

“No? Try me.”

“It happens with every little girl, I suppose. You play games and imagine your future—who you’ll marry—and what he’ll be like.”

“It might not just be a girl thing—I’ve done that myself.”

“But for me, it was more—that’s who I wanted—and I was determined not to settle for anyone else.”

“You mean your image of this man of your dreams was so clear in your head, you could actually see him?”

“That’s exactly what I mean.”

“Wow—that’s awesome.”

“I came here several years ago. It was so lovely here—romantic and mysterious. I heard the legend and tried it—and that’s exactly what happened.”

“And the soldier who appeared to you looked the same as the man of your dreams?”

“Yes. But instead of consoling me, it made me pine for what I didn’t have and couldn’t seem to find.”

I softened toward her. “I’m sorry, Jessica—I can imagine how that must have felt.”

“Can you? It gets worse.”

“How?”

“I finally met him.”

“You met your dream man?”

“Yes.”

“Well, go on—what happened?”

“He turned out to be a disappointment—a fool.”

I began to see why she had a harsh attitude toward men.

“You have no idea what suffering I went through—having my hopes up only to see them crushed.”

“I’m so sorry, Jessica—men are such fools.”

“You are,” she said simply.

“What happened to this man you met—is there any chance you can get together?”

“I don’t think so.”

“Do you ever see him?”

“I do.”

“Often?”

“Almost every day.”

I sighed—at her futility—at my loss. It was a mess.

“Well, at least you got a break from him here,” I said impulsively—then, I remembered the figure in the tent.

“No, actually, he’s here too.”

I nodded. “I saw him as well—I saw two shadows in your tent the other night.”

“Then you understand,” she whispered.

“It seems impossible—but I can’t deny the evidence of my own eyes.”

“No, I suppose you can’t.”

Curiosity about the man impelled me. “What did he do or say to turn you off?”

“He didn’t treat me as special—he didn’t treasure me.”

I wanted to kill him—but I felt guilty for the way I treated her as well.

“He’s the loser,” I blurted out. “You are special—he must have been a fool.”

“You were,” she whispered and looked deeply into my eyes.

 

© 2015, John J Geddes. All rights reserved.

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benefactor

 

To be orphaned is to be abandoned and although loss happens to everyone at some point in life, it happened to me when I was nine.

My parents died in a plane crash in the Rockies, and suddenly I was living with a maiden aunt, called of all things, Auntie.

Her real name was Cicely Warren. She was my father’s spinster sister, but as unlike him as the Moon the Sun.

She was cold and hard as the peppermints she kept locked in a small steel tin—cold and hard as the dark brooding thoughts shut up in her pursed lips.

When she spoke her sentences were terse, and splintered into words.

She inhabited an austere world nebulously existing in a void, a remote old maid on the very verge of human society

But my parents’ will that made Auntie my guardian also allowed me access to Basil Heathrow, my father’s advisor and longtime friend.

Basil was very much like Father—kind and gentle, albeit older and more solemn—but a refuge, and welcoming fire that cheered and warmed me through Auntie’s cold and moody spells.

Basil took me places, and I looked forward to our ‘adventures’ as he called them, for they were magical escapes from a grim and joyless life.

Once we visited a goldfish pond in a shady courtyard off a twisting street; another time, the Planters Peanut factory. And then, there was the overnight trip to Montreal on the train.

But it’s the small outings that still lodge in my brain—like standing in drizzly mist while Basil patiently explained the meaning of a rooftop weather beacon flashing red through a dark April afternoon.

And so, I was orphaned, but not abandoned, because in the end, I had Basil.

 

Years passed and I matured. I entered university and eventually became a lawyer.

I grew closer to Basil each year, depending on his sage guidance in all my affairs.

“You’re a teacher, Uncle Basil,” I told him one day. We were sitting in his office in Chamber House, a magnificent Beaux Arts building erected in the late 1920’s.

He reached over and squeezed my hand affectionately and laughed. “I’m not a teacher—I’m more an awakener, Cain.”

His use of the term seemed very accurate. He made me pay attention to life when all the rest of the world seemed asleep to its beauties and truths.

I reflected on the way our relationship had evolved over the years—and how he gradually became my mentor, and then, ultimately my friend.

But despite the fact I matured and grew up, Basil always remained the same.

He seemed to sense my thoughts because one day, he unexpectedly made a confession to me. He began by saying our relationship was ‘quite unique.’ When I asked what he meant, he simply said, it was owing to the fact I was alive and he was dead.

“I’m a vapor, Cain—a faint echo of a life once lived. But I still want to persist, though fleshless, and somehow make a difference.”

“You mean you’re a ghost?” I croaked.

“Not a bed sheet ghost or transparent wraith,” he explained. “Think of me as a guide.”

“And was my father aware—of your…state?”

He chuckled at my attempt to be delicate. “Yes, I met your father when he also turned nine—I met his father at the same age, and before that, his father’s father. You see, I’m very familiar with the Warren family. We go back a long way.”

“And what is the purpose of this relationship with our family?” I rasped.

“It’s very simple,” he confided. “I’m here to offer assistance in any way I can. You’re not obligated to follow my advice and you’re free to discontinue the relationship if you choose. But I do hope you’ll keep visiting me, as I’ve grown very fond of you.”

By this point in my life, Auntie had passed away and really, Basil was the only family I had—rarefied, or otherwise.

Although my educated head was unable to grasp the full implications of what he said, my heart had already decided—he was too important in my life to allow his being discarnate to divide us.

Basil then went on to add, “But my Boy, since you are flesh and blood, you need living companionship.”

I was bemused. “Are you suggesting I find a mate?”

He handed me a business card. “Start with a dog,” he said.

 

The next day, being a Saturday, I was at the Humane Society offering my services as a volunteer.

“Have you ever owned a dog?” the supervisor asked.

“No, I’m afraid not—my Aunt would have never allowed it.”

“Are you willing to learn?”

“Most definitely. But I figure it’s like being a parent—nothing prepares you.”

The older woman’s eyes crinkled as she broke into a warm smile. “I think you will do just fine. I’ll put you with Charlotte.”

“What breed is she?”

“Human, like you,” she chuckled, “You’ll shadow her and learn the ropes.”

At that moment a girl appeared at her door. She had long honey-colored hair and huge brown eyes. “You called for me, Mrs. Simpson?”

“I did Charlotte. I want you to meet Cain Warren—he’s offered to volunteer and he’ll be shadowing you.”

She stared at me and I felt my stomach flip. She was beautiful.

I spent the rest of the day in a haze.

Charlotte had a soft voice and a gentle way—even the animals seemed to sense it and fell under her spell—as did I.

It was a very long week until I could be again with her again, and I spent it dreaming of her every night.

When Saturday morning finally arrived, I walked into a scene of bedlam at the pound.

A puppy mill had been raided and the police had seized over fifty dogs—many were ill and malnourished. The kennels were swamped with animals in need.

Charlotte and I worked feverishly all day and by closing time, all the animals had been treated and boarded except one—a Golden Retriever puppy named Heart.

Charlotte wanted to take the puppy for the weekend but lived on the fifteenth floor of a downtown Toronto condo. I offered to board Heart seeing as I had recently purchased an older Victorian house with a huge yard, right beside High Park.

Charlotte was hesitant because of my inexperience, but agreed to let me take the pup on condition she visit during the weekend to help me out.

She didn’t have to bend my arm.

“You sure you don’t mind?” she asked, her huge brown eyes studying mine.

“No, not at all. It’ll be fun,” I assured her.

She seemed to come to a decision. “Well okay, but I insist on going home with you and getting you set up for the night.”

Outwardly I nodded and quietly demurred, but inwardly, my heart was pounding in my ears.

We rode the subway together, sitting closely on a bench, Heart curled up and sleeping at our feet.

An older woman sitting opposite got up to leave and then, paused and leaned down to whisper to us, “Such a lovely couple—and with your little pup, already a family.”

Charlotte blushed and my heart leapt at the thought of the three of us.

As we walked down my tree-lined street, I wanted to grasp her hand, but had to resist the urge—still, it seemed the most natural thing in the world to do. It was lovely being with her.

“I love this house, Cain!” Charlotte’s eyes lit up, and the same surge of joy flowed through me as the first day I set eyes on it myself.

I persuaded her to stay for dinner and as I prepared pasta, she went about puppy-proofing the downstairs.

We fed Heart and he curled up on a blanket by the kitchen door.

We dined with candlelight and wine in my hitherto unused dining room listening to Thirties music while an April rain pelted the windowpane.

Afterwards, I lit a fire and we had coffee in the front room while flashes of lightning, like wavering moonlight, lit the windows.

The thunder’s din frightened Heart and he began to whimper, but Charlotte cradled him in her arms softly stroking his fur and whispering reassurances.

We sat there, the three of us, on the rug before the fire, in my darkened front room—the storm gnashing outside, and the three of us, warm and fed and shut away from the black wetness, safe in our oasis of peace.

And then, we fell asleep.

When I awoke shortly after dawn, gray light was just beginning to suffuse through the blinds.

I looked over to see Heart, still curled up, his head resting in the crook of Charlotte’s arm. She was fast asleep; her cheeks a lovely pink, and her breath rising and falling like waves upon the sea.

I knew then I wanted this to last forever—that we had become a family.

 

That night was a watershed in our relationship. It was my beginning in a colored world I only knew in dreams.

Within a month, Charlotte and I were engaged. I adopted Heart and the dream had finally come to stay.

“I have a surprise,” I told her, one Friday afternoon. “There’s someone I want you to see.”

“Well okay,” she laughed, “but it can’t be your parents because you’re an orphan just like me.”

“It’s my uncle, Love—he’s been with me through all my hard times.”

She hugged my arm and leaned in close to me. “Then, he’s someone I really want to meet.”

We rode the elevator to the top floor of Chamber House.

When we entered the oak paneled office, Charlotte’s jaw dropped.

“Grandfather?”

Basil crossed the room to hug her. “Hello, Child. I’m glad you’ve come to visit.”

My head was swimming. “Uncle—I don’t understand.”

“I think you both better sit down,” he smiled.

“Why does Cain call you Uncle?” Charlotte demanded.

“Because I am,” the old man sighed, “not by blood, but by love.”

Charlotte looked perplexed, but I reached out and grasped her hand in mine.

“I came into both your lives when you were nine—when you lost your parents, and I’ve been watching over you all this time.”

“But why?” I moaned. “I still don’t understand.”

“No, I suppose you don’t, my Boy, but suffice it to say, it’s because you both were fated to meet—to unite two houses and begin a new line.”

“You arranged for us to meet?” Charlotte asked incredulously.

“I wouldn’t exactly put it that way. I allowed you to come together and let nature take its course.”

“But why us?” I asked.

He chuckled softly and then said matter-of-factly:

“I chose you both because you’re tender, loving souls and your offspring will make a difference in the world. Besides, you’re soul mates—born in the same star—your atoms mixed together an eternity ago.”

“But wouldn’t we have found each other anyway?” I asked.

“Not always, my Boy—sometimes people fail to meet and live apart tragically. I just helped things along.”

 

It’s a strange business this law of fate—I don’t comprehend it, but I do see why it exists.

Charlotte feels the same and is glad Basil is there to assist.

We have our own little family now in our house beside the park. Sometimes Basil visits and occasionally helps things along.

There’s a baby on the way and Charlotte’s due any day.

And there’s a welcoming fire to cheer and warm us on those cold, bleak days when the sun doesn’t always shine.

 

 

© 2015, John J Geddes. All rights reserved.

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